Protestors forced their way into the U.S. Capitol building after President Donald Trump spoke at a rally on Jan. 6, an Associated Press article reported.
Before crowds rushed the Capitol, Trump shared a large amount of misinformation about the election and Mike Pence’s role with the group. Over the past few months before Twitter banned him, Trump shared false information about the presidential confirmation through social media.
According to the Associated Press, the false information Trump shared riled-up those who attended the rally.
We at Scroll believe the cure to the spread of fake news and false information relies heavily on an individual’s personal responsibility to think for themselves.
We recognize that as a news organization, asking you to trust news organizations seems a bit ironic, but as student journalists with varying majors, we’ve added finding trusted sources and learning the truth to our list of personal responsibilities. There are credible news sources out there and we strive to share those with you.
The sharing of falsities is not a new trend of 2020 or 2021, rather, it’s a trend of humanity. Think of medieval medical practices or the fact that many used to believe the world is flat — some people still do. If anything, the spread of misinformation has advanced like any technology or civilization, with a new name and a plethora of platforms.
This misinformation or “fake news” has the power to sway large crowds and communities. The Jan. 6 Capitol riot proves just that.
Fake news, and the accusations attached, find its way into all types of communication and media. Whether that be television, social media, magazines or even word-of-mouth, “fake news” is a phrase that all too commonly slips out of someone’s mouth as an attack against something either genuinely fake or something they don’t understand.
To better understand what fake news is, it is important to start by examining what fake news is not. Essentially, fake news is not information you don’t agree with. The false consensus effect too often leads us to believe the general population agrees with us and thus anything straying from those beliefs or ideas is “fake.”
While many well-known individuals are guilty of mislabeling information they don’t agree with as “fake news,” President Donald Trump is often associated with this behavior. On numerous accounts, he has referred to claims made or stories published about him as fake. He coined nicknames like ‘Clinton News Network’ or ‘Fake ABC News’ for CNN, ABC, The New York Times and other news outlets, as the producers of this “fake news.”
According to The Independent News, during his time as president, Trump has referred to the news media as “fake news” nearly 2,000 times, most recently in regards to the election.
On Dec. 26, 2020, he tweeted, “… Courts are bad, the FBI and ‘Justice’ didn’t do their job, and the United States Election System looks like that of a third world country. Freedom of the press has been gone a long time, it is Fake News, and now we have Big Tech (with section 230) to deal with …”
This tweet accompanies dozens of others fighting the results of the election and claiming that any news about the election not in his favor is “fake news.”
Fake news is not information you don’t agree with.
Aside from the very obvious misconceptions of what fake news is, fake news does exist in our world today and it is a huge problem.
Fake news is information spread through the media, by word-of-mouth or in any other way, that isn’t true. Fake news is very deceiving as it does present itself as true and accurate. Despite any advice of “not trusting everything you read on the internet,” many individuals are way too trusting of information read on the internet. Many think that if they see something online, it has to be true.
Why is this a problem? Fake news as a plague wouldn’t exist if we didn’t find our way to the share button every time we stumbled upon a startling piece of “news.”
Many fake news stories spread based on their clickbait-y headlines. Some organizations are so focused on gaining high readership and good analytics for their publications that they will use exaggerated “information” to catch the attention of their audience in a way that makes them want to know more.
While these headlines deceive, for the most part, their articles contain true information. However, many individuals don’t look past the headline. They see the one startling fact and rely upon it as the source.
Those who use their First Amendment right to speak freely — purely to provide entertaining stories people want to read on social media — continue to take a higher percentage of viewers’ attention than actual news does.
Journalists and the news media strive to stop this problem. Journalists work to produce news as truthfully and accurately as possible. However, when journalists lose their jobs or news media outlets don’t receive funding, it makes it harder for journalists to combat the rising issue.
When political and inspirational leaders misguide the public to believe that “fake news” is a ploy used by all news media outlets, it makes the task at hand for journalists even harder. At the Capitol Hill protests, where hundreds of protestors violently showed their support for Donald Trump by breaking into the Capitol building to threaten those inside, President Trump readdressed his consistent belief of election fraud, spreading fake news to those supporters.
The individuals who put their trust in President Trump were misled by the false information he shared. However, the journalists who spread the truth were blamed because of President Trump’s constant misrepresentation of the news media.
No matter how focused anyone is on following the right sources, coming across fake news is inevitable. We as individuals can avoid spreading it though.
To do so, we need to follow certain steps to be independent thinkers and objective news consumers.
It’s impossible to be 100% free of bias, which is why it’s important for everyone to learn how to recognize biases and political lean in the information they read, participate in, or listen to.
Allsides is a company that rates news organizations through its online articles by its political lean. Though its media bias chart is imperfect, it undergoes thorough research and yearly updates. We encourage every reader to download this chart and refer to it when you question the bias of a source.
For more information on this chart, refer to Allsides and Poynter Institute’s Analysis of AllSides and Ad Fontes Media Bias Charts.
Rather than listening or reading news from one news source, look at both sides. It’s OK to listen to one side of the political spectrum as long as you’re willing to listen to the opposite side too. Understanding and listening to both can not only help stop the spread of fake news but depolarize our nation, even just a little.
To avoid as much bias as possible, simply be willing to look at every side of the story.
False claims are 70% more likely to be shared on Twitter than the actual truth, according to a 2017 study done by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. One could argue that a cause of such a high statistic is the fact that most people aren’t finding the original source of the information they share.
Because every piece of information we listen to or read has a source, it is part of our personal responsibility to verify the information we share and determine its credibility.
For the same reason you wouldn’t send someone to a badly reviewed hair salon for a haircut, you should never share information from a source deemed questionable.
You don’t have to dig far to know if you can trust a news source.
On social media specifically, anyone can say anything about anything without being an expert. That is the joy and pain of freedom of speech. This also means that social media is a breeding ground for false information. Certain sites have stepped up its game by censoring fake news, but that doesn’t take away our personal responsibility to fact check.
The best way to do this is by clicking on the source someone has decided to share. From there, you can do a simple search on the writer and organization’s credentials. Sites with .gov and .org are generally more reliable than a simple .com, but that doesn’t always mean they are the expert source.
Ad Fontes is a media watchdog organization that rates news organizations through their articles based on political lean and reliability. Each year they update the Media Bias Chart below to help individuals distinguish which news organizations might be more “expert” than others. Similar to Allsides, it is imperfect, but backed by research. More than you or I are probably willing to do.
For more information on this chart, refer to Poynter University’s Analysis of AllSides and Ad Fontes Media Bias Charts, or Ad Fonte’s website.
Say you read something about the COVID-19 vaccine from a Facebook friend. They don’t share a link or the original source of information. Should you share what you’ve read or continue on with your day? Before making a decision, search for actual sources that may have reported on the news your Facebook friend shared.
If there are multiple credible sources backing up the claim, it is likely real, credible information. If you cannot find legitimate sources to back the claim, refrain from sharing.
It’s easy to get carried away with our emotions, especially when traumatic or shocking events occur. You might feel tempted to share an article or information you’ve heard somewhere at these times to prove a point. Instead, take a moment to calm your emotions, determine if the information you’ve consumed is true or false, and share the facts you’ve learned at a later time.
According to Time Magazine’s expert sources, venting, posting on social media and continuing an argument when you are angry can compromise your ability to perform everyday tasks.
Take the time to think about how you feel before sharing. This could help you recognize a misunderstanding, false information, or help you realize you don’t care about something as much as you did at the time.
Many local stories that go national have passed through several news organizations with their own editing and writing styles. Sometimes it can be confusing or miss some facts you deem essential. They are taking a local story and making it applicable to a nation — they have to be different.
We shouldn’t hold this against news organizations. Not only do we have the job of presenting the facts of stories, but we also have to make them appealing to you as an audience. There is a benefit to reading multiple different articles about the same thing from multiple organizations. But if you want the initial facts, search for the initial story. More times than not, local news has the first and usually the most accurate information.
When you begin to blame “the media” for sharing a load of misinformation, we hope you can pause and give a moment of self-reflection to ask yourself if you’ve done your part. Good journalism like the work produced by the Associated Press, National Public Radio and many others fight to create the most unbiased news possible. But as with anything viral, we have a personal responsibility to take precautions as individuals to stop the spread.