The American news industry is currently in the middle of a crisis.
According to a poll from Gallup, only 32 percent of Americans say that they have a great to fair deal of trust in mainstream media. This is an all-time low for the industry. One of the biggest reasons behind the drop in trust could be the rising trend of “fake news” aka news articles which are either completely made up or are manipulated in just a way to change the overall tone of a story.
If you have watched the news in the past year or been on any social media, then you have without a doubt come across some form of “fake news”. Whether it be President Trump claiming that a news source is using fake news to slander him or an obviously made up story shared by an elderly relative on Facebook, these are all instances of fake news. This growing trend of individuals or companies producing illegitimate news stories either for personal entertainment or simply as a political tool is a serious problem that many people may not grasp the full scope of. By producing these made-up stories organizations are spreading false information and they are tarnishing the trust that people have for media.
But what is the purpose for skewing news stories? One reason is most likely that some people just want to add to the chaos and confusion that is currently plaguing the news platforms. They see throwing out false headlines or statistics as a way to get a cheap laugh at the expense of some unsuspecting reader. What they don’t seem to consider is how what they are doing is diluting the pool of real news and information that people who truly care about what’s going on in the world have to draw from. While they may not be intending to do anything malicious, what they are doing is very negligent and careless.
The next reason that fake news is created and spread is for political purposes. What this means is that people fabricate fake stories or distort real ones in order to make a political statement or to try to influence the political views of others by presenting them with false information. News stories that are produced for this purposed will usually try to paint a political figure or idea in a light that would make them appealing to someone who shares an opposite view of that person or opinion. Through this method someone could be swayed to voting for someone or something that they think shares similar values as them when in reality, what they are voting for may be the complete opposite.
It is when fake news is used for purposes like these that they truly become a harmful force in media. Through deceit people can use false information to sway people’s views on important subjects and get them to vote in a certain way. Take the last presidential election for example. A big focal point of Donald Trump’s campaign was that news agencies where spreading false news about him on purpose to slander his name and get people to vote against him. Whether these stories where true or not does not matter. What matters is that there were surely some people out there who saw these articles and had their political views changed by them. This is the biggest threat that fake news presents, changing people’s opinions through lies.
The final, but certainly not the last, reason for the rapid spread of false news is monetary gain. Believe it or not there is a way for people online to make money by writing these outlandishly fake news stories. The way that they make money is by bringing traffic to their website or the site that employs them through the use of click baiting headlines i.e. headlines that are so unbelievable you have to see what they say. These websites earn revenue dependent on how many people come to their website so they use these fake news stories to draw in readers. The more bizarre and eccentric the headline the more people who are going to click it and come to your page.
In an article on the Washington Post a man claimed that he was making nearly ten thousand dollars a month by making fake news stories and posting them to Facebook. This was nearly double of what they said that the average fake news writer makes meaning that on average someone who spends their days making thing up is raking in around five grand a month. It is crazy to imagine that people are making so much money by just coming up with news of the top of their heads. While this may not be as malicious as writing to manipulate people’s views there is harm that comes from this. This can cause people to be uninformed on topics that they believe themselves to be informed on which can further lead to the spreading of false information.
So how do we go about solving the problem of organizations and individuals spreading fake news? There is currently a California state lawmaker who is in the process of trying to have a bill on fake news passed. What this bill would do is it would make it against the law to spread and create fake news that could impact a political race. That’s the solution, right, a law against publishing fake news? Wrong. While this may stop a small percentage of publishers there will still be a ton who turn a blind eye to the law to keep making profit.
The responsibility of combating and preventing the spread of fake news does not lie with its issuers but with the people who read it. People can prevent fake news stories from influencing their lives by doing simple fact checks on things that they believe could be false. By doing simple fact checking they help not only themselves but they also prevent incorrect information from spreading to others and perverting the stream of legitimate information.
Collin Stager is a student at Edison State Community College.