Anthony Garand leans forward, concentrating on the four headlines illuminated on the screen in front of him. “Drugs in Colorado: Deadly New Strain of Marijuana Turning Users Gay,” reads one. Another proclaims, “Obama Signs Executive Order Banning National Anthem at All Sporting Events.”
These headlines, featured in a quiz on The Guardian, are two of countless fake news stories that were cycled across the internet through various social media platforms in the past year or so.
Garand, 25, a web developer very invested in the recent political election, was visibly dismayed at the complexity with which the task of identifying published fake stories entailed.
“Since the stories are sensational, the headlines get people excited and work to further the agenda that the publisher has in mind for the readers,” Garand said. “Many of the fake stories are based on partial truths and neglect to share the whole underlying story.”
The deep-rooted political controversy in our nation has undoubtedly increased the speed at which false news articles have been shared.
“Critical thinking is key,” emphasized Adam Ritchey, Fayetteville resident and CEO of InterraMedia. “People seem increasingly unable to understand when something isn’t true. Perhaps people just want to believe headlines which align with or support their own beliefs. But, really, if something even seems vaguely strange or unlikely, it’s probably not true.”
The New York Times portrayed the situation visually when describing our nation as “more divided than ever” in a new commercial promoting their commitment to the truth.
“All citizens have an obligation to educate themselves and go to multiple sources with different biases to get the facts for themselves before rushing to judge or share news that they haven’t even confirmed is legitimate,” said Leah Daily, an employee at the Kristin Farmer Autism Center who is very up to speed on both the myths and realities of the news by keeping herself accountable and researching the backgrounds of articles presented to her.
According to CNBC, in the three increasingly hectic months leading up to the presidential election, 960,000 Facebook members had liked, shared or commented on a news article with the headline, “Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for President”, while, in comparison, the top New York Times story on Facebook garnered a mere 370,000 engagements.
“The primary media sources we’ve relied upon for decades are, by and large, reporting stories using proper journalistic techniques,” said Ritchey. “There is no fraud on CNN or ABC News or CBS. The problem is non-journalistic individuals who create fake articles and spread them via social media. Why is there so much of this? For some, they hope to generate clicks/hits on their website to generate income. For others, they hope to influence people who are easily influenced.”
These massively shared stories were causing Facebook to receive much of the blame for the detrimental effects of the falsified information regarding the knowledge of voters, which incited their newest innovation: the Facebook Journalism Project.
In the past, Facebook posts were prominently featured solely due to their popularity, rather than their validity. The company now plans to be more investigative in the news that is shared by journalists and various sources, incorporating a fake news “detector” that will alert the reader to its possible illegitimacy.
Journalists and publications, Facebook has maintained, must also be better trained and equipped in their handling of reporting, to forget their biases if only during the working hours. Every angle of a story must be shown if the public is to see the entire picture, much like an artist must also highlight the flaws of their own artwork to illustrate the greatest features.
However, not everyone is buying Facebook’s sudden change in mindset. “Facebook is the reason fake news exists,” said Daily. “The company profits heavily off fraudulent news sites because there are so many people without reality based judgement. Facebook will inevitably only censor the news that benefits them the most. They are a for-profit organization and should never be trusted because conflict of interest is another contributing factor to determining which news is fake.”
Of course, it can be assumed that many falsified articles are in play simply because of an agenda held by one political party or another, and their willingness to report incorrect information in pursuit of their idea of the “greater good.”
The wrongness of deceiving a portion of the public by means of altering a few details of a story in comparison with achieving their goal, whether it be electing a new president or turning one race against another, is an easily justified offense.
“This matter is complicated by the 1st amendment,” said Ritchey. “You can say anything you like, even if it’s a ridiculous lie. Untrue speech is still protected speech. True responsibility lies with each individual to learn critical thinking skills.”
The News Literacy Project website illustrates 10 questions for any reader to ask themselves if they stumble upon an article that seems unlikely to be accurate.
One piece of advice it offers is to ask yourself if the news “makes a claim about containing a secret or telling you something that ‘the media’ doesn’t want you to know.” This could be an identifying factor detailing it as a fraudulent piece.
“Another simple method for discerning fake news is to simply visit any of the FactCheck websites,” advises Ritchey. “These sites research many stories (both fake and true) and then provide the actual sources of the facts.”