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Why “Fake News” Isn’t Cutting It

Photo: Marco Verch Source Licence

Photo: Marco Verch Source Licence

Joy Reeves, Staff Writer

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(This article is written to analyze journalism, not to criticize any specific political party.)

        In today’s society, it seems the only thing worse than bad news is fake news. “Fake News” is a label we hear everywhere, from talk shows to Twitter to televised debates, and it has become an obsession of Democrats, Republicans, and people from across the political spectrum. Considering the vastness and the variety of internet content today, the nation’s “Fake News” crisis doesn’t entirely surprise me, but I am alarmed by how frequently and indiscriminately Americans dispense the label in an effort to antagonize any sources with a hint of unsavory bias. In doing so, we’ve created an era of journalistic warfare. We must steer away from accusatorily using the term “Fake News” because it is fundamentally paradoxical, it often mistakes inherent journalistic bias for fraudulent information, and it defiles the sacred democratic concept of “news” in general.

The first major problem with the term “Fake News” lies in its contradictory definition: “fake” implies counterfeit, and “news” implies a factual report of what has happened. How can a fabricated, counterfeit report of what did not happen be “news?” The word “news” connotes nonfiction, while “fake” points directly to fiction, so calling pieces of false media “Fake News” is like calling a story “fictionalized nonfiction.” Linguistically, even if the term is used in an appropriate situation, it is still a bothersome paradox.

“Fake News” is a scathing label used inappropriately to brand and stigmatize any sources with the slightest hint of bias. The concept of biased information circulating in the media is not unique to our generation. Widespread bias dates back to 19th-century partisan newspapers[1], as well as early 20th-century “yellow journalism,” which was written with the known purpose of exaggeration and sensationalism, including tabloids, expository press, and shocking headlines. (Today, we also have clickbait.) With these cases of deliberate bias aside, I would argue that bias is inherent in all journalism. There is no universal software chip to project all of the world’s happenings into our minds at once, so we rely on our news reports and broadcasts. The deliverers of such reports and broadcasts are human beings, and thus prone to subjectivity that is rooted in our experience and decisions. News sources must choose which news to include (or exclude) on a daily basis, and this selection is what creates diversity between sources.  It is important to recognize and point out human bias, but we shouldn’t just jump to “fake news” right away, nor should we stamp on the credibility of information we merely dislike hearing.

Social media, in a literal sense, polarizes the content we “like” and “dislike.” Specifically, the National Bureau of Economic Research identifies the problem of “ideologically segregated social media networks”[2] blurring the lines between social media and news. Unfortunately, social media posts often lack third-party fact-checking, and they tend to sort readers into community-based “filter bubbles […] insulated from contrary perspectives.” [3] Within this bubble mentality, 14% of people in a Facebook poll actually admitted to deliberately circulating a fake political article online.[4]

Lastly, the term “Fake News” defiles the sacred democratic concept of “news.” In an interview, journalist Chuck Todd stated, “Alternative facts aren’t facts, they’re falsehoods.” “News” carries the same weight as the word “facts.” Consider satire sites such as Real News Right Now. [5] You could call them “Fake News”…but why should we give satirists and internet trolls the right to be called “news” at all? The term “hoax media” might be more fitting. In the same sense, untrue accusations against political candidates (think Comet Ping-Pong) persisted from all sides during the election. This defamation is not “Fake News.” It is not news at all. It is slander.

Blatantly illegitimate stories like that should not be lumped in the same category as “politically-leaning” news sources. Sources and candidates infinitely point fingers at each other in a circle until we are distracted from the truth. In these accusations, all we are doing is creating a culture that attacks our news sources. Leave NPR alone. Leave FOX News alone. Leave CNN alone. If an article has a piece of objectively false information in it, the information should be flagged and removed post-fact-check, rather than just branded with the term “Fake News” and added to the pile of sources we Americans have discarded from our own free press.

 

Overall, the label “Fake News” should not be used indiscriminately. Let’s relish the free expression of journalism and give news a chance.

…Especially Mane News!

____________________________________________________________________________

[1] From a Stanford University publication by Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow.

[2] NBER.

[3] Stanford Publication, referencing Sunstein 2001a, b, 2007; Pariser 2011.

[4] Statista Statistics Portal.

[5] http://realnewsrightnow.com/

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