Checking facts

May 1, 2017 -- Living City

Checking facts
Stopping the spread of fake news

By Sasha Maksimik

Today almost anything we want is accessible at the drop of a hat, if you know where to look. Information is quite literally in the palm of our hands. With that an extra amount of caution should be used when reading the latest news. People continue to make a living on sharing purposefully deceptive so-called “news.” Some is satire and parody, with the intent to entertain, but others have a more malicious intent or are motivated only by monetary gain.

“Fake News” is the newest buzzword to come out of the most recent election. It further divides our already polarized society, leading people to think there is a supposedly clear line between real and fake news. But as most things, it is never that simple.

I was finishing my degree in Mass Communications and Media Studies during the presidential election. Many of my assignments pertained to it. Our journalism assignments were to analyze the ethics of different aspects of the media coverage. A couple of the major pillars of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics are to seek truth and report it, and be accountable and transparent. Members are held accountable to this code. Many media outlets have their own ethics codes that they hold their employees to.

With my new degree in hand and ready to take on the world, this new push against the media and journalism has become increasingly frustrating. The skepticism towards journalists and media outlets is tearing down the reputation of my profession. With the new presence of outright “fake news,” a question hangs in the air of whether what I’m reading is true. But this doubt is unwarranted for many of the major news outlets. I trust that they have done their due diligence, with the processes that I know they have in place. If they make a mistake, they own up it and make changes and retractions as are necessitated by the circumstances.

The internet has made anyone a journalist. I get skeptical when people share articles from unknown blog sites, where anyone can publish their opinions, and share it as news.

A friend of mine on Facebook shared one such post. I began to read it, and what I had been studying in school at the time began to raise red flags. I took some key points from the article and put them in to a search engine. I could not find any reports or trustworthy articles supporting these points or serve as verifiable source material for the article. I alerted my friend to this, and she said she had the same hesitation with the piece but posted it anyway because, to her, it made sense.

This is one of the ways fake news is so easily shared. It preys on a belief that the reader may hold. Many people will only read and listen to news that they want to believe or that supports their world view. I try to read articles from sources that share a different worldview than mine. This helps me see things through others’ eyes. While I might not agree with everything they say, I can understand where they come from.

In my everyday social media consumption, I have one practice that I strictly adhere to: ignoring clickbait articles. Clickbait is indicated by an outrageous headline for an article, blog post or web page that is displayed when it is linked to an outside source. The headlines are generated to increase clicks. Clicks are then used to monetize the advertising viewed on said article. The headlines will exploit a view of the reader and sometimes will never be addressed in the actual article. Looking at the comments from the original poster on social media, many times will be better at describing the article than the headline. If I am interested in the topic of the article I will go and find the information from better source.

Fake news is a frustrating phenomenon. It has taken the hard work put into reporting the news and made it irrelevant. Someone can point to an article, media outlet, or journalist and say “fake news” and it will be believed even when presented with evidence to the contrary. But I still have hope in all that is produced during this time of scrutiny and will stand the test of time.

 

Sasha Maksimik works as Office Manager and Jr. Graphic Designer at Amplus Agency in Fort Worth,  Texas.