This archived article was written by: Scott Froehlich
A dark cloud is hanging over the world of news during the last few years, one that has given many journalists and media organizations a bad rap. This cloud has taken the shape of an ever-growing prevalence of fictitious news and extreme-bias reporting.
Recently, it was reported during the 2016 presidential election that Russia deployed over a thousand Internet “trolls” to distribute false and damning stories about Hillary Clinton to swing states throughout the United States. Russia is not the only guilty party in this phenomenon, however, as there are countless sites that devote their time to conjuring up stories that err on the side of “alternative facts.”
With much of the news accessed via the Internet through social media and other mediums, there has been no better time for this new type of guerrilla warfare to exist. Sound bites and headlines consumed in moments allow many to get their news in a flash, and with networking sites like Facebook, these bogus stories spread like wildfire with the click of the “share” button.
While many of these accounts promote skewed opinions or exaggerated or baseless claims, there are many instances in which some serious accusations surfaced that had serious consequences.
In 2015, a deranged man named Robert Lewis Dear, Jr. committed a mass shooting of a Planned Parenthood in Colorado. During his trial, Dear made remarks decrying “no more baby parts” which was believed to be related to a video that surfaced earlier that year.
In the video, which was found to have been heavily doctored, a Planned Parenthood employee had supposedly sold fetal tissue to researchers. The men associated with the video have since been prosecuted and charged with numerous felonies for filming without consent as well as other offenses.
Another event stemming from a fake news story was regarding the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory. An armed man from North Carolina entered a Washington, D.C. pizzeria in response to an article he had read online that claimed the restaurant was harboring children as sex slaves.
The conspiracy started initially as a tweet on Twitter, then snowballed into a full-fledged controversy when less-than-credible news sites picked up the ball and ran with it. Although the man was taken into custody, it was Alex Jones and his website Infowars.com covered the supposed “scandal.” Despite Jones later caming out late last month and apologizing for his promotion of the conspiracy theory, the damage was done.
It is apparent that the consequences related to perpetuating dishonest news can go far beyond ruining reputations or swaying opinions. Three people were killed in the Planned Parenthood shooting, and there’s no telling what could have happened at the pizzeria had the man not been apprehended. There is unfortunately no way to stop people from spreading lies as they are protected by the Constitution’s First Amendment, but we have a responsibility to ensure that we aren’t unwillingly passing them along in our own social circles.
So, what can we do?
Spotting fake news can be accomplished by following a few steps when encountering a suspect piece of information. First, consider the source. If the article is being published by a reputable and widely-accepted news corporation, odds are the news is legitimate. Another tip is to read the entire story. Headlines are created to encapsulate the essence of the story and grab your attention [a.k.a., “click bait”], but oftentimes false stories leave loose ends in the actual piece that can be sure signs of bogus reporting. Be sure to verify the author’s credibility by doing a quick search into their credentials and what, if any, accolades they received as journalists.
It is also helpful to look for other sources that support the article or piece of information that you are disputing, and that may even include going over to the “dark side” and exploring what is said outside of your own personal bias.
The freedom of the press will forever create multiple angles spun and makes it nearly impossible to get the 100 percent unadulterated truth. However, that does not mean that the integrity of reporting news and sharing information must fall prey to those out there who seek to do harm by undermining the truth.
Former U.S. politician and sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” We should all take this fact into consideration and do our part to ensure that the truth prevails.