Fake news isn’t new news. It has been around for a long time, and has always been causing problems. Today fake news is more relevant than ever, raising questions in the White House and around American journalism.
As news consumers, we can probably think of a time when we saw a news story or headline that was questionable. With the election earlier this year, consumers have seen a rise in fake news stories and individuals who are sharing and believing them. As general news consumers, we are the most at risk for being overwhelmed with fake stories.
“These days, I would say everybody is at risk for consuming fake news. I would go so far as to say, even the president of the United States has been tweeting on and relying on at least bad, if not fake, news sources. The greatest at risk would be the general news consuming public,” said Jonathan Peters. Peters is an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Kansas as well as a lawyer.
Peters defines fake news as an article that is designed to mislead you. Fake news includes general fictionalized information, and it can sometimes be connected to a larger propaganda campaign.
With the intent of fake news being to purposely fool, deceive and mislead, how are individuals not able see through the fabrication? Peters believes part of this is put on the news consumer.
“You have some responsibility for when you enter the marketplace to get good products and services,” said Peters. “That applies just as well to our news consumption.”
Distinguishing a fake news site from a real news site is more challenging than it used to be, with all of the clutter online. Fake news sites come in many forms. Some are specially designed to identical to a legitimate news source, which is very problematic.
Addressing the issue of fake news can be complex because there is no legal response to the issue. “The first amendment does not have much of a role to play here, because outside of a few limited contexts, the first amendment would protect the distribution of false information just as much as it would truthful information,” said Peters. The first amendment, however, does protect against defamatory statements, but if you want to create a fake news source and lie to people, you can do that.
When choosing a reliable new source, credibility is key. Some basic criteria for choosing a credible source is prominence. How well known is the outlet? If the outlet makes a mistake, does it quickly correct it? It is also important to check out what sources the news source itself uses. If the news source is relying on bad sources, it is no better than the bad sources it is relying on. Be sure to check out the professionalism and professionalization of the outlet. Make sure the outlet follows common norms and values of the industry.
“There are some fundamental values that cut across the media spectrum. One, I think, is that we’re truthful. Another is that we have a loyalty to the audience we serve. A third is that our greatest social responsibility is to inform people with the goal of making them better, more participatory members of American democracy,” said Peters.
Fake news is no joking matter. It is not just a media problem-it is a social and democratic problem that demands a response. News and news media have a great power to shape the minds of a population. It is important as news consumers to be media literate and distinguish the real news from the fake news.