Do you remember the dress worn by American First lady for the presidential inauguration back in January of 2012? Several thousands of people looked at the photo posted online of her striped dress and had overwhelmingly different opinions about what color it was. Many thought it was navy blue and white, some said it was black and white, and few others even thought it was green 4xand yellow. So what was the actual color of that dress and what was the truth? What was the reasoning behind such contrasting opinions and what does this lead to?
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Dress worn by The First Lady is an example how the same information was interpreted in several different ways. This comes to mind amid discussions about how fake news and outright lies has taken precedence and its serious impact.mk In this so-called world of fake news where there is unlimited freedom of information sharing, anyone can spread anything they wish on the internet around the globe and anyone can find the information and rely on the fake news which confirms their beliefs. This clearly shows the lack of public’s critical thinking and fall prey to fake news.
This representation of the lack of critical thinking skills is quite worrying and in order to prevent the spread of fake news and control this serious problem, root cause concerning human mind has to be understood. The unprecedented rapid growth in technology leading to a widespread increase in fake news, understanding the inherent nature of human cognition, loopholes in the media and ways to control the spread of fake news has to be understood. In order to be a discerning news consumer, it is important for oneself to be a critical thinker with the ability to differentiate fake news from real news.
There were various forms of media such as television, newspapers, magazines, and radio to spread and disseminate information before internet came into existence. Ancient media methods allowed advertisements and supplements which paved way to mask the real news. Television was a phenomena in the 1960’s which glued people to sit in front of their media box. Advertisements, seen as ways to mask real news was telecasted during prime time with an opportunity to reach millions of homes every day. Later, fantasy based reality shows closed the gap between real and staged events. In today’s world, professional looking websites can be published and search engines and social media platforms can be programmed to create influential news. Even a technological savvy computer science or information technology graduate student can create such websites.
The news media doesn’t tailor its content to specific individuals, hence its varied content and far reaching impact. Information shared with the media will spread at a faster pace and to a greater extent compared to the one without media coverage. Media targets a set of people whom the message needs to be communicate. Online media provides unlimited free access to information through websites, blogs, and various applications. Internet coverage and smart devices allow easy access to news media with a finger touch. Due to the volatile nature of politics, economy, and safety environment in the world, news media plays an important role. The news media do play a significant role on the negative side as well spreading fake news through various tabloids. There were lots of fake news involving gossips, scandals and manipulated information. The news media is a profit making organization with an ulterior goal of multiplying profits. Hence advertisements and sponsored content may contain unapproved content causing huge impact to the society.
Fake news doesn’t mean its outright lie, rather news that are more likely to be biased or misleading in a gentle way. It is the information that is clearly fabricated and that has been customized to look like genuine news. Its content is specifically created to appeal to an audience’s pre-existing preferences. The spread of fake news with the evolution of technology has been widespread causing a huge impact. According to a historian, dating back to 18th and 19th centuries, fake news was a commonly accepted practice and newspapers were more opinionated and agenda driven. Later with the introduction of penny press in 1830s, sensational news and gossip started proliferating. Though readers didn’t believe everything they read is true as many newspapers published short stories and poetry and satire was mainly used by entertainers and not journalists.
Most of the fake news that’s viral online consists of written pieces and recorded segments that promotes false information through means of factual reporting. For example, several reports were published by news organizations highlighting examples of hoaxes, fake news and misinformation on Election Day 2016. Fake news is created intentionally by entrepreneurs who seek to make money from advertising, and false information can also arise from misinformed social media posts by normal people who posts regularly, which spreads through a biased blogosphere.
One such example was the recent post on social media by a businessman regarding protests where he connected seeing several buses lined up in downtown and the protests reports which he heard in the news media. He assumed the two were connected and posted his thoughts on social media which were soon followed by many of his followers, then taken to reddit community, blogs and were shared among the internet world causing a huge stir and confusion. Initial content of the message got manipulated in several ways leading to incorrect information sharing driven by incorrect assumptions. This is one typical example how fake news originates and propagates with the help of social media and blogs in the internet world.
Incidents affecting humanity and human values signify the dark real world consequences caused by fake news. Just for political propaganda, there were lot of websites that publish completely fake and fabricated news. Fake news grew into fame taking advantage of people’s attention seeking skills, meaning if human mind pays attention to a particular topic, more articles pertaining to that topic will be produced. More than the real news, it’s about page views that matters as in more sensational the headline is, the more views you get and the more money that could be made from manipulating eyeballs.
It is tough to ignore the historical facts about how newspapers were agenda driven in the past and how it has changed now with a focus towards free speech and unbiased content. In the recent past, some of the headlines in the newspapers and social media have left people thinking in the wrong direction before they figure out that its fake news after reading the entire article. There were several instances where one reads various fake news pages and comes up with one on his own based purely on his exaggeration with a fancy and a sensational headline, making it go viral. It is imperative for people to differentiate fake news from real ones and prevent proliferation of such fake news even for the fun aspect of it.
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Because of the nature of social media, most of what is published goes unmediated. While traditional journalism subscribes to strong rigor, righteous editors and a history of fact-checking, these disciplines don’t exist on social media, where fake news thrives. Given the veneer of respectability of a legitimate-looking site, it’s easy to see how the outrage can kick off a chain reaction of commentary and public finger pointing. Any lie can gain general acceptance if it gets repeated frequently and this is one sole reason for the alarming increase of fake news. Achieving repetition is easy in this so called era of social media with a few button clicks.
Social media and online search giants should take efforts to prevent fake news sites, applications and advertisements from appearing. When there is an iota of doubt concerning a website or news content, it is better to search google for confirmation reports from reputable news sites to check whether they have picked up the same news. There are many reputable online websites such as Snopes, Factcheck, etc., to name a few, to verify the authenticity of the news content.
Social media users have the opportunity now to flag articles they think are intentionally false, and these articles will be screened using third-party fact checkers. Warning signs on articles such as disputed and fake tags would negatively impact its rating score on social media making it visible to fewer people in their news feeds. Technology savvy scholars have created several applications detecting fake news sites. Such applications could be installed on web browsers as extensions and warnings provided by those applications could prevent the spread of fake news and help human beings detect and recognize fake sites. Fake news could be controlled by installing fake detector applications on gadgets which analyzes its authenticity and flags fake pages.
First and foremost place to look for ways to control fake news is within oneself. Rather than checking the veracity of the news content using different verification websites and fancy tools, one should check their own self to believe or not. If the story is so outrageous, it is too true to believe. Individuals should make sure that they are not being told what they want to hear. In order to become a more insightful, discerning news consumer, it is important to differentiate real and fake news and become more of a critical thinker. Part of being a critical thinker is to always question whether they are only getting part of a story or the complete one. Developing oneself as a media literate person would help overcome this situation.
The government must focus on education policy in order to develop a literate society which will help people decipher between real and fake news. Government can also introduce stricter regulations on media and individuals sourcing fake news articles. Though it may cross toes with freedom of speech, it is imperative to have government backing for individuals to fight against defamation and control the spread of fake news. Government can impose fines on social media companies and websites those spread fake news, as this will force sourcing websites to impose verification checks and control the spread of fake news.
Fake news is a phenomena whose spread could be controlled through collective responsible actions by the means of governmental regulations, education policy, literate society, technology and applications. At this stage, determining the legitimacy and utility of information is ultimately the responsibility of the people.
Agrawal, Nina. “Where Fake News Came in – and Why Some People Believe It.” The Los Angeles Times, 20 Dec. 2016, www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-fake-news-guide-2016-story.html , Accessed 08 Feb, 2017.
Anand, Bharat. “The U.S. Media’s Problems Are Much Bigger than Fake News and Filter Bubbles.” Harvard Business Review, 05 Jan, 2017 www.hbr.org/2017/01/the-u-s-medias-problems-are-much-bigger-than-fake-news-and-filter-bubbles, Accessed 16 Feb, 2017.
Akpan, Nsikan. “The very real consequences of fake news stories and why your brain can’t ignore them.” PBS NEWSHOUR, 05 Dec, 2016, www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/real-consequences-fake-news-stories-brain-cant-ignore/, Accessed 18 Feb, 2017.
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