Fake news

The Lantern dives into the meaning of fake news and its effects on the media.

Fake news compilation

Fake news compilation

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When Alexander Hamilton fought for greater freedom of the press in an 1804 court case,
the founding father emphasized in his six hour speech to the New York Supreme Court that he
was not pushing for the right to say whatever one pleases: “In speaking for the freedom of the
press, I do not say there ought to be an unbridled license.” Sadly, if Hamilton was still among us
today, he’d surely be mortified by the media environment as it stands, a landscape with an
unbridled license, a landscape plagued by extremely distorted, biased news – fake news. All of
this misinformation sitting in Americans’ Twitter and Facebook feeds, being fed to the
population on cable television, and being released by news sites from the wings of the political
spectrum and simply the president’s popularization of the term “fake news” are dangerous
weapons being wielded against democracy. Before getting to how the terminology is threatening
our democracy, and how to protect said democracy, one must identify the root of the problem,
the fake, biased news itself. In light of this problem, mandating a media literacy class is the
pathway forward.

The internet. It’s something that keeps our world going round every second of every day.
What a convenience it is to have an outlet for finding out anything about anything at any time.
Yet, the internet is a minefield, strewn with false information that people are blind to. The
Cambridge English Dictionary provides insight into exactly why fake news is dangerous to
democracy, defining the term as “false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or
using other media, usually created to influence political views (“Meaning”).” Usually, it is
distributed by “news” sources that are actually just severely biased groups trying to advance their
own political beliefs and agendas, even if that means totally distorting reality. When one looks at
this deliberate misinformation, they aren’t seeing the world as it is. A Washington Post article titled, “‘Fake news’ and the Trumpian threat to democracy,” highlights how the majorly biased
and fake news being distributed reflects how the wedge between our political parties is being
driven deeper and deeper (Meyer), leaving our nation tormented by constant disputes, with
neither side of the political aisle willing to at all budge from their objectives, neither side willing
to meet at a compromise. Social media is far and away the driving force that propagates fake
news.

Any platform thatregularly amplifies engaging or provocative content runs the risk of amplifying fake news along with it”

— MIT

One concern is that on Twitter, a social media platform used by tens of millions of
Americans, false information has a tendency of being spread to far more people, far more
quickly than factual information according to The Atlantic article, “The Grim Conclusions of the
Largest-Ever Study of Fake News.” The revealing article relays the findings of a massive study
into the patterns of fake news on social media, which was conducted by MIT. The study was of a
scale never conducted before, looking at every single piece of potentially controversial news
posted on Twitter throughout an entire decade. What was found was no huge surprise. A
falsehood was far more likely to be retweeted (shared) than accurate information and on average,
met far more eyes than the average accurate story. Fake news wins out but robots are not at fault.
In addition, the MIT study found that bots recirculate true info to the same degree as false info.
This is a human driven problem. Logically, the writer of the article concludes that the findings
from this study of one social media platform could reign just as true on any other: “Their work
has implications for Facebook, YouTube, and every major social network. Any platform that
regularly amplifies engaging or provocative content runs the risk of amplifying fake news along
with it (Tharoor).” The problem of fake news being circulated isn’t limited to just Twitter, it is
happening to a heavy degree across all of social media.

Many may believe that this problem of fake news doesn’t pertain to them because they
deem themselves capable of deciphering between what is real and what is purely falsehood. But,
the truth is, people are naturally coerced into reading and sharing headlines that reflect their
beliefs, even if isn’t reality, even if it is certainly distorted. “Even the most staid user might find
themselves lunging for the politically advantageous rumor (Tharoor)." This trend of spreading falsehood is something that must be confronted.

Althoughfake news is a real and present issue, that doesn’t mean that everything is fake ”

Mass amounts of fake news opened the door for the flip side of the issue, perhaps posing
the greater threat to our democracy, the terminology “fake news” itself. In Donald Trump’s
campaign for the presidency, he used the idea of fake news to his advantage – by hushing the
voice of democracy. With lots of fake news circulating and much of what people were seeing
being brought into question, the man now sitting in our oval office seized upon the opportunity
to brand any and all media opposition towards him or his agenda as “fake news,” encouraging
Americans to draw information concerning him into question too (Meyer). No matter how
reputable the newspaper, they were branded as fake because they were simply enabling their
right to publish the truth about those in power, because they were publicizing well-founded
truths about who would eventually become our president, that he didn’t want known. Although
fake news is a real and present issue, that doesn’t mean that everything is fake – particularly only
everything against one’s agenda.

President Trump has even repeatedly turned to his notorious Twitter antics to silence and
place doubt on truth when it involved him or his administration. Almost humorously, he tweeted,
“FAKE NEWS – A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!,” and later, “I will be announcing THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR” on Monday at
5:00 o’clock.” Democracy could crumble if these trends continue, so action needs to be taken.
The semester long media literacy class that I took my junior year was an enlightening
experience that should be government mandated for all high-school students nationwide. Larry
Atkins, author of the Huffington Post article, “States Should Require Schools To Teach Media
Literacy To Combat Fake News,” holds the same opinion. We are both left concerned by the
findings of a Stanford University study: “middle school, high school, and college students had
difficulty judging the credibility of information that they found online and are frequently duped
by fake news, biased sources, and sponsored content (Atkins).” The students of today, who will
one day be the figures playing their own part in democracy, need to be schooled on how to
criticize news sources, by recognizing bias and pure falsehoods. A new trend needs to be set, one
of calling out false information, not of redistributing it, of deciding for ourselves what is worthy
of being believed, not of letting a self-invested leader decide for us. Mandating this class is the
pathway forward.

Fake news and the term itself is threatening our democracy and the proper functioning of
our political institutions. The media literacy class left a lasting impact on me and needs to do the
same for the many millions of young Americans who are the future voices of our nation.

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