The calls for action against fake news are still all around. What if the real solution lies with readers, not anyone else?
This past election gave way to intense and arduous “debates” on social media between Americans standing on either side of the political fence, and even Libertarian advocates excited by the prospect of seeing a third-party candidate on stage for the Presidential Debates. Why the quotation marks? If you were involved in any of these detestable verbal interactions, then you already know. If you were one of the lucky ones spared from the onslaught of vacuous opinions backed only by ignorance and dull-witted insults, then prepare to shake your head. We live in an age where scholarly articles, history, and current events are just a few screen touches away, which makes it astounding when someone proclaims something as fallacious as, “The KKK was actually founded to stop domestic violence.” Such blatantly inaccurate and misinformed statements sprang up in droves across social media sites as political news articles and responses to them. With all the world’s knowledge in the palms of our hands, how has the internet generated a breeding ground for uninformed political soldiers? The answer has two parts and they are terribly disheartening, acting as a candle snuffer to the small flame that is hope for humanity.
Part one, fake news makes money…big money. Articles, more than those that write them, make their money from advertisers looking to get their products and services seen on viral internet content. That’s nothing new, but it fuels the fire to create content that will be viewed by millions. During an election year, everyone from die hard party members to those who couldn’t care less the past three years have their brains immersed in the possibilities of who our next president might be. Tensions rise, and those who choose to do less than sub-par research on their candidate revert to repeating records stuck on track 8, “Dirt on the opposing candidate.” That was especially true this election as even Trump and Clinton themselves seemed to focus more on what they could dig up about each other than issues during the debates. It’s all a part of the process, but the ease of access to the internet has allowed rumors to become full-fledged articles that garner our attention. It’s all too easy for us to get a quick glimpse at our Facebook news feed during the day, and see an attention-grabbing headline such as “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement” and accept it as truth without reading the article. Even if you had read the entirety of the article from WTOE 5 News, or many others like it, in full then you and over 100,000 others that believed it were just duped by a hoax while aiding the bank account of the lying author. A good writer of false news can make up to $5,000 in a month, and while that may be sickening it pales in comparison with how they sway our minds in the political realm.
Taking Advantage of Us All
What is it that causes us to believe these articles, memes, and false facts? One of the major reasons behind the phenomenon that surrounded this election was that while our patriotism as a nation has not faded, our choice in news source has. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with political news appearing in the same place as “7 Interesting Reasons Why Public Toilet Seats Are U Shaped” or a slew of adorable cat photos, but it is becoming increasingly evident that the writers of these distorted stories find it all too easy to slip in and grab our attention with startling headlines that tug at our patriotic heartstrings. In the social media realm, we often do not think twice before sharing something that expresses ourselves and the same applies when we read something that aligns with our political viewpoints. As the rumor spreads around its’ presence becomes a large enough entity for us to simply believe that it is true. Where something used to be known because it was all over the news, it is now “known” because it all over Facebook. Those of us who back up our information with trusted sources are finding ourselves pitted against many who think they are doing the same, when in fact they are simply citing and propagating the junk found floating from news feed to news feed. While fact checking became a substantial topic during the election season, finding a true source to check the facts on became an impossible task as hundreds of thousands of these false news stories sprung up all around us. Even when the candidates offered fact checking on their websites, these false news articles had already turned us into wary voters with misguided suspicions. Our patriotism was profited on and our viewpoints were swayed for the wrong reasons.
Ending the Cycle
While it’s easy to simply read something on social media and take it at face(book) value, it fails us as both patriots and informed citizens to do so. We allowed ourselves to be deceived by those looking to make a quick buck off our trust, but we don’t have to let it happen in future elections. Voting is one of the fundamental rights we as citizens have and that right is infringed when we do not properly educate ourselves on candidates through trusted and accurate news sources, all of which take no more time to find than those unreliable sources on your news feed.