By Frank Wickizer (Opinion) –
Whether it’s humourous, insulting, degrading, or just plain wrong, fake news is a problem that everyone with a phone experiences daily. This is a problem because without reliable news, there can be no educated citizens on many matters of the world.
Every day we, as students and as teachers, see the feed of media that seems questionable but because its from a source with a “.org” or “.com” we seem relieved. Why? Does an internet presence equal reputable sources today?
There are actually multiple different kinds of fake news, with the most common being hoaxes. These are purposefully false articles that seem real, that can’t be limited due to standing supreme court rulings on the New York Times Co. vs. Sullivan case. The second kind of fake news is corporate sponsored news, this is news that is meant to benefit or hurt a specific company. The carcinogenic Nutella story is a prime example, seeing how sales dropped over 3% following the stories publishing, according to Ferrerro, the manufacturer. This may not seem like a lot, but this means that their profits could be cut by over $20 million. The last kind is satire, and is not considered true fake news by some. The most prime and popular example is The Onion, a source of humor for many, and horror for the few that don’t quite understand their sometimes rather dark humor.
All of these are dangerous for different reasons, and some shared reasons. Hoaxes are dangerous because of their potential to be massive in scale. Corporate sponsored news is dangerous because it represents the war on choice that seems ever the more present. Satire is dangerous because their outrageous claims could be misunderstood as serious. All are dangerous though, because their validation is publication.
Today, with little effort, anyone can make a website. Not even something as difficult as PeachMoose.com, created by Southeast Senior Chris Morse. WordPress, Weebly, and so many other sites are easy ways to build websites with little stress. Now, while this is important for one’s freedom of speech, it is also a way that anybody, no matter their beliefs can become a published author.
Nowadays, being “published” is a title that verifies just about anything one could say, even if it’s racist, sexist, or any other form of a discriminatory narrative. For ages, the fact of being published meant you had to fill a heavy vetting process or be a monk that studies one thing for their entire life, validating the experiments of monks such as Gregor Mendel, the father of modern genetic and biological thought. But now, because the ability to be published is so much easier, it has become so much easier to being mislead into believing something that is false. For example, the message and forum boards such as Stormfront are harboring grounds to leach onto young, White males, the most popular demographic on the internet, with the fluid and hidden ways of White supremacy. For example, the issues in Leith, ND stemmed from this exact scenario. Craig Cobb used Stormfront as a forum to get young white nationalists to join him and form a voting base by using small towns as a starting point.
More evident with this problem is the rise of President Donald Trump, who presents a vast array of issues on this matter but most important is his feeding of the issue. Not only is his acceptance of and belief that fake news is admissable, evident when his staff, such as Kellyanne Conway, his counselor, is in affirmation of “alternative facts”.
But what really is scary is how the editor of BuzzFeed reacted, Ben Smith said that, “Donald Trump will drive the U.S. narrative. We will cover the hell out of the president and the administration as we have covered him all along – fairly and without making compromises for access.” This opens up Trump’s ability to spread false knowledge, because the press will be covering everything he does so much. Not only scary because of the common association of BuzzFeed with fake news, but also because the leader of narratives in the U.S. now is being covered non-stop. But this narrative seems to be going unchecked, as political reporter Jenna Johnson from the Washington Post explained. “Reporters are not in a place to interview him, but to record and report,” Johnson said.
What’s important is how to stop this problem. Smith said, “Fake news will become more sophisticated, and fake, ambiguous, and spun-up stories will spread widely.” One example is the UK-based newspaper, The Daily Mail.
One recent story that has garnered some attention is the publishing of stories that say Nutella could give one cancer. The titles lead one to believe that there it is possible, but the study they cited never says that. What it does in fact say is that palm oil when refrigerated can be a carcinogen, but Nutella’s palm oil is never refrigerated in the way they claim leads to carcinogenic effects. This shows not only that fake news can be straight-forward lies, but concealed lies.
Though this seems to mean we’re doomed, there is hope. At least, among the groups of people I was able to reach out to, almost all were able to tell me what is fake and what is real news. This included polls of multiple classes, and though this is not scientific by any means, the ramifications are still interesting. Nearly every upperclassman I talked to, even though I was showing them a CNN article, were able to realize its fakeness. This contradiction was somewhat baffling at first, but Psychology teacher Lindsey Herting has the answer to this conundrum. She explained to me that it has to do with our frame of minds. This affects our knowledge base through social media.This has most to do with the way that we, as students are attached to our phones. Whether it’s Facebook or Twitter, fake news is everywhere, and now we know how it functions. We know this because as millenials we grew up with the changing world of technology, and we don;t have the past knowledge of how news used to work.
The issue then becomes, who does fall for this fake news? Well, the classes I did talk to that fell for fake news were entirely underclassman. Many individuals said things such as, “Oh, my mom told me this is real, it must be,” when looking at entirely falsified information. This means that the problem can’t be as localized as once thought, but it’s localities are still existent. Older generations seem to be the target now, and now that this is clear, the ramifications seem evident.
Senior Daniel Luu said, “My mother sends me fake news articles she reads on Facebook at least once a week.Things that are just ridiculous to me don’t phase her.” Examples of these include, “stories about how talking on the phone can give you cancer and that there are pills you can buy online to lose ten pounds over night.”
This most likely comes from an outdated conception of how news works now compared to how it worked in the past. In the past, news had a heavy vetting process to be published, and only truth-tested stories were deemed worthy. Now, all that is needed is for the slightest bit of something interesting to come up and then something is written quickly and published. This means that those who still follow past understandings of news are increasingly susceptible to the issue. This also shows why younger generations might be less susceptible, for they grew up understanding there is lots of fake news out there, and have adjusted for it.
It seems, then, that though fake news has a lot of potential to be bad, the harms of it have not been fully realized. If younger generations don’t realize fast how badly this could turn, things could get very bad, very quickly. From mass amounts of fake news being spread to those in power, to those in power listening to constituents being fed fake news, there is a double edged sword protecting fake news from being able to hurt people.