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Fake News Synthesis Essay
Fake news is described as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting” by the Collins English dictionary. With the ever increasing access to technology and the internet, fake news is able to access citizens faster than ever before, making it seem like fact as it can be seen on several occasions. The widespread use of social media accelerates the spread of false information and can confuse readers, and the flood of fake news also pushes reliable news away with its outrageous and eye catching headlines. Bias from both the author and the reader contributes to the confusion mass of information, and may make a reader believe something that is simply not true. In order to counteract this flood of dishonest information, citizens must be able to easily identify and ignore sites and headlines that are not credible, and avoid sharing them with others.
With thousands of articles scrolling by our eyes every day both on social media, or on news stations, it can be difficult to distinguish reliable news from made up stories. Credible news stories take several hours a week to create, and require plentiful research and background information to ensure that all the facts are correct and all sides of the stories are covered. Then, an editor must “read it for accuracy, good grammar, and completes. A copy editor [repeats] the process and [writes] the headline” (Peterson). Alexis Krell, an author of news articles at News Tribune, describes the process of writing an article as a “tried and true- albeit labor-intensive and expensive- process” (Peterson). In order to create a story that is not biased and included only correct and relevant information, Krell must sink a plethora money and time into the process, something that doesn’t happen with fake news articles.
In contrast to credible news sources, fake news articles include lies and biases. To counteract the epidemic of fake news spreading, one must be able to identify fake news and fact check questionable articles and headlines. For example, if an unnamed source is being used, one might have to dig a little deeper to determine whether it is fact or fiction, compared to a website like BBC or CNN (Wendling). In addition to this, Peterson advises readers to “check to see if any longstanding journalism sites also have it”, if other reliable news sites contain the same or extremely similar information, and it is widely spread over reliable sites, the the article and its information are probably true and trustworthy (Peterson). Identifying fake news can also be done by “[paying] attention to who is publishing the story” (Peterson). Credible sources should not have an anonymous author, which often fake news stories often do. The author should have proper credentials as well that can be seen by the reader. If the reader is still unsure whether the source is reliable or not, they can “Run the story by nonpartisan, nonprofit fact checking sites such as Politifact or Snopes.com” (Peterson). These websites have people working overtime to check if sources are reliable or not, and are an easy way to fact check sources. When tweets about fake protester flooded social media about buses bringing hired people to protest then president elect Donald trump, the owner of the bus company said that the story could have been “easily debunked based on a quick phone call or two” (Maheshwari). If a citizen had been able to identify the story as false by looking at the author, or running it by a fact checking website, and then made a short phone call to the bus company, the whole story could have been debunked. Mike Wendling, writer for BBC news, is proposing a new curriculum into schools which incorporates digital literacy, and although it hasn’t been added into schools yet, even a simple lesson from parents similar to this would help children understand fake news as well as how to fact check and avoid it.
The effects of fake news are widespread. These stories can influence anything from personal decisions and opinion, and go as far as to skew the presidential election. The cause of this quick fungus like spread of fake news can be blamed mostly on social media. Sites like Facebook, Instagram, and twitter allow anyone who makes a free account to post and share anything with just a few clicks. With social media so easily accessible, “fake news sites have taken off in recent months particularly on Facebook” (Peterson). With more than just websites sharing false information, it can be hard to distinguish which news is reliable, and this becomes especially true when friends and family might liking or sharing it. When the information can spread so rapidly, the effects of fake news become amplified. Sydell interviewed a man who writes fake news articles and owns several websites. During the interview, the man explained to Sydell that he wrote a story about how people were using food stamps to buy marijuana, in order to “feed his readers” as he calls it (Sydell). After this false story was spread, what it “turned into was a state representative in the House of Colorado proofing actual legislation to prevent people from using their food stamps to buy marijuana based on something that has just never happened” (Sydell). Even the government became confused from the epidemic that is fake news, but if this person learned to spot fake news, the problem could have been avoided altogether. Another incident which occurred as a result of fake news came from pizzagate. Pizzagate was a theory that a local Washington, DC pizza shop was running a pedophile crime ring. While this wasn’t true, articles and opinions on the matter stormed social media. The result was a man by the name of Edgar Maddison Welch, who “was arrested last week and initially faced local charges after allegedly firing an AR-15 assault rifle multiple times inside [the] pizza restaurant” (Sands). While extreme, the consequences of fake news almost injured or killed several people in this incident. But fake news doesn’t only affect individual citizens, now that it has become a “Mainstay in political commentary” (Lynch). It may even have gone as far as to influence the presidential election, one of the most important changes that the government goes through which the people have a say in.
With the excess of negative effects from fake news, it might seem confusing as to why people continue to spread and believe the ridiculous stories. However, a bias from both the author and the reader may contribute to the problem. When someone writes a fake news article, they end up writing a “story that is all opinion, innuendo, and rumor”, with “the sole mission of getting thousands of clicks so the writers can cash in” (Peterson). In order to get all these clicks, the writer must know their audience and use the audience’s own biases to their advantage. In Peterson’s case, the writer who he spoke to knew that, “His audience hates Obama and loves president elect Donald trump”, and so he wanted to capture that disgust and write articles that framed false stories as a drama between good and evil which the readers would enjoy seeing (Peterson). Using his audience’s opinion and bias in his favor allows the writer to get more clicks and more people to share the news, which in turn earns them more money and attention. This phenomenon of believing false information easily occurs because when people want to hear something, all it takes is for someone to write the story and it won’t be questioned, it’ll be taken as fact (Sydell). In addition, when people are “Faced with so much conflicting information, many are prone to think that everything is biased, everything conflicts, that there is no way to get out” (Lynch). The thousands of conflicting stories and reports can easily confuse readers, so they often give up on trying to find reliable and unbiased news. However, by knowing what fake news is, and how to identify it, readers can find better sources without a lot of hassle while eliminating false information from their feed. Being aware of both one’s own bias as well as the possible authors bias also can help put an article into perspective, to help identify if the information is false or not.
In order to stop fake news from spreading, citizens can take one of many steps to counteract the flood. Peterson gives readers the simple advice of reading an article all the way through before sharing it because, “Sharing a fake news story gives a huckster another opportunity to make money while misinforming your friends” (Peterson). Not reading the story all the way through may cause the person to miss signs of fake news, and when they share the information on social media without checking it themselves they only device more people and help the writer gain money. Another way to stop fake news would be to “eliminate the financial incentives that make fake news profitable” and by “criminalising people who post fake news” (Wendling). By doing this, the writers would not be able to gain any money from their stories and they could be punished for misinforming people, therefore destroying their incentive to spread the information. There are also people looking into automated fact checking, and while this is around 80% reliable, having individuals be able to identify and stop spreading fake news on their own will be able to solve the problem the quickest and easiest (Wendling).
Fake news has become a large scale problem, and needs widespread action from individual citizens. By being able to identify fake news and differentiate it from real, reliable news, each person can make a small indent on the problem by not supporting any false information websites and writers. Citizens should also know how fake news spreads across social media, as well as how both theirs and the authors biases and opinions play a role in interpreting and analyzing articles for fake news. If each citizen is able to understand the massive impact that sharing or clicking on a fake news article has, then they will be more likely to take simple steps to avoid the problem, such as researching the author of an article and fact checking specific parts of the article itself. Most importantly, citizens must not share any fake news as it misinforms more people while gaining the writers money, enabling them to continue spreading lies. When fake news charades as reliable information everyday, citizens must be able to counteract the negative effects by being able to identify fake news and by not sharing it with others.