How Fake News & Online Hoaxes are Dumbing Down Americans
When it comes to the internet, fake news abounds whether it’s fringe right-wing conspiracies or traditional tabloid stories you would see at the check-out counter.
Because of the influence fake news had on the election, Stanford University conducted a study to find out how Americans can fall for false information that looks like legit news.
This study included 7,804 students in middle and high school, as well as college; and found that the majority of them could not tell fake from real news online.
For example, 2 out of three middle-schoolers could not convey to researchers a valid reason for mistrusting posts seen online. In addition, high schoolers were convinced that headlines were strong evidence of factual information contained in the article.
The problem was these students’ inability to properly judge authenticity and instead went with the “appearance of legitimacy” in lieu of information quality.
This “clickbait generation” has been identified as partially to blame for the election of Donald Trump with the assistance of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The problem is immense, with misleading and complete false information being shared all over Facebook and other social media sites that it should come as no surprise that they had an effect on the election outcome.
Journalist Will Oremus explained : “People tend to read, like, and share stories that appeal to their emotions and play to their existing beliefs. Without robust countervailing forces favoring credibility and accuracy, Facebook’s news feed algorithm is bound to spread lies, especially those that serve to bolster people’s preconceived biases. And these falsehoods are bound to influence people’s thinking.”
The public’s reliance on fake news is disturbing to many people. Journalist Curtis Silver put it this way : “The evolution of how we consume and are presented news stories has changed over the years. Decades ago we had a few sources for news, the nightly news and newspapers. The internet made us straight up lazy and stupid. We started to accept everything as fact.”
Silver continued: “News sites started to pop up that reported with very far leaning biases, but we were unable to stop ourselves and actually think about what was happening to the flow of information. We were inundated. We all became experts. Then social media came along and that was the end of truth as we knew it. Fake news sites popped up and we started sharing headlines, not stories. We started sharing clickbait intended for the sole purpose of ad revenue, not truth.”
Conspiracy theories and white nationalists sharing Pepe the Frog memes have created a wildly inaccurate temperament online which is exacerbated by the rise of the alt-right in all of its despicable forms.
That is why real journalists and their audiences cannot “combat this online rise of the right, of fake news and social media vitriol, without the help of tech companies.”
With an estimated 66% of Facebook users getting their news from the social media platform, the idea of an informed public is becoming a notion of the past; a remnant of a time when facts and evidence mattered and Americans could tell the difference.
Back in September, several digital, social and news media outlets have joined forces to create a coalition aimed at refining news reporting and identifying fake news.
• Washington Post
• Channel 4 News
• New York Times
• International Business Times UK
• Al Jazeera
• American Press Institute
• European Journalism Centre
• Amnesty International
• Reveal Project
The purpose of First Draft is to assist tech corporations gather news and verify information posted on social media for easier access and effective information dissemination. In addition, the coalition endeavors to “improve the experience of eyewitnesses contacted by news organizations, and help social media users assess news they find on networks.”
In a press release, First Draft stated: “Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Periscope are central to how news is now discovered, reported and distributed. The partner network will create a feedback loop for representatives from each social media platform to connect with journalists and develop ideas for ways to streamline the verification process, improve the experience of eyewitnesses and increase news literacy amongst social media users.”