Fake news? There’s a solution

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How do you define fake news? It seems pretty straight forward, but somehow there seems to be some disagreement on the definition.

The concept of fake news has taken on a whole new level with the incident inside a Washington pizza shop involving a gunman and a speech from Hillary Clinton this week. 

So what is fake news? Why is it so hard to decipher between reliable, researched, credible news and news that perpetuates blatant lies?

Both appear next to each other in social media feeds; similar news stories might be covered by mainstream media outlets; both kinds of news are presented in similar formats and fashions. Fake news proponents don’t make it easy.

According to a study recently released from Stanford University, more than 80 percent of middle school students couldn’t tell the difference between a news story and sponsored content on a website. Sponsored content is content paid for by advertisers. 

Can you tell the difference?

A senior fellow at George Washington University recently wrote an article on the topic for Forbes. 

In it, he notes that, “Perhaps the best approach might be to recognize that instead of ‘fake’ and ‘true’ news, we have a hundred shades of gray in between.”

As a journalist, that idea makes me a little squeamish. 

Yes, news organizations sometimes get it wrong. No one, time has shown, is infallible. 

Fake news articles come from both sides of the political spectrum. They range from ludicrous to believable based on your own biases as a reader. No matter where fake news falls on the spectrum of “truthiness,” though, it casts doubt on the topic it covers. It causes those reading or listening to it to question what’s real and what’s not. 

While that doesn’t sound so bad — forcing people to think and consider different angles of a story can be beneficial — facts haven’t seemed to play a large role in how people decipher what they hear or read.

The Oxford English dictionary even crowned “post-truth” as its international word of the year. The dictionary defined the word as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”

Ludicrous comments used to be reserved for things like the National Enquirer. You know the stories I’m referring to — “Bigfoot kept lumberjack as love slave” or those referencing any number of alien interactions.

Now, though, they permeate more than our time at the grocery store checkout.

While I’m not sure the “fake news” phenomenon warrants speeches from former presidential candidates, it certainly appears worrisome.

I used to love the quote from the movie “State of Play” that touches on the subject. “In the middle of all the gossip and speculation that permeates people’s lives, I still think they know the difference between real news and bulls***.”

I’m not sure that’s the case anymore.

By |December 9th, 2016|

About the Author:

Kristen Czaban joined The Sheridan Press staff in 2008 and covered beats including local government, cops and courts and the energy industry. In 2012, she was promoted and now serves as the managing editor for The Press. Czaban has a journalism degree from Northwestern University.