Fake News Epidemic Expands Nationwide

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Written by Casey Abashian and River Stone

Hillary Clinton sells weapons to ISIS. Pope Francis endorses Donald Trump for president. Barack Obama signs an order banning the Pledge of Allegiance. All of these popular 2016 stories had one thing in common, they were all false.

This new trend of printing false information, disguised under flashy titles and snazzy pictures, makes it difficult for the American public to distinguish between truth and lies.

Although fake news often seems like only harmless rumors, the dangers of bogus information can be alarming. During December of 2016, fictitious quotes and false information actually led to threats of nuclear war between Pakistan and Israel. During this same month, an armed man from North Carolina drove to Washington, D.C., with the intent of freeing children supposedly being held in a family run pizzeria as part of a child pornography business
run by Hillary Clinton. This information was proven again to be false.

However, the term “Fake News” should not be used lightly. Freedom of the press is a right guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution that American citizens take very seriously. This topic came to light in particular after President Trump’s recent tweets attacking the media. U.S. Senator John McCain criticized this onslaught of the press by stressing the dangers present when influential people denounce all news that goes against their agenda.

In an interview with NBC, McCain said, “If you want to preserve – I’m very serious now – if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free, and many times, adversarial press.”

Nonetheless, fake news still exists. Many people blame social media in particular for acting as a catalyst
to the spread of fake news.

“Social media has an extreme effect because people believe it without doing enough research,” says Woodgrove Sign-Language teacher, Mrs. Martinez.

A large reason fake news stories are primarily online is because the amount of “clicks” or views the articles get enable the websites to stay afloat. Websites will often create outrageous, eye-catching
titles in order to receive views on their stories. The average person quickly scrolling through, can easily mistake these misleading headlines as the truth.

People often see what they want to see based on their preconceptions. This is simply human nature. Humans tend to believe articles that “lean” toward the side of their beliefs.

According to science writer and historian Michael Shermer, human beings are conditioned to believe rather than disbelieve things. In a 2012 Ted Talks presentation, Shermer explains the research behind his conclusion. In the presentation, Shermer had the audience imagine a scenario where they pretended to be an early human named ‘Lucy’ who hears a rustle in the grasses of Africa. If Lucy is cautious and assumes that the rustle is a dangerous predator, it may save her life. If it turns out to be the wind, then she has made a false conclusion, but it is harmless.

Shermer goes on to say it is better to be more cautious against a possible threat, so humans have conditioned themselves to rely on these thought patterns. These types of beliefs and judgments, no matter how primitive, create patterns that help humans to structure their lives. This also may be the same principal that causes humans to believe superstitions, conspiracy theories, and fake news.

“I deal with relatives who fall for fake news constantly because they just don’t take the time to do research and think about it,” says Woodgrove history teacher Mrs. Brianne Allis. “It’s all about instant gratification.”

Fake news stories published in various media outlets are affecting a vast majority of Americans today. In a U.S. survey of over 1000 people, 64% of the adults say that fabricated news stories cause them immense confusion when distinguishing between truths and lies. Overall, out of 1,002 people polled for a survey on journalism.org, 882 admitted that they had been confused by fake news.

In an attempt to combat the spread of fake news, Facebook recently enacted a new policy allowing third-parties to report and flag stories they believe to be bogus. These messages or articles will then go to fact-checkers in order to verify their accuracy.

In the past, fake news wasn’t as big of an issue because most people’s primary news source was the television or the daily paper. Although information wasn’t as readily available, false data also wasn’t as easily spread.

“My main source of news as a kid was the basic news channel and the nightly news. Most kids had cable, but I only had the six or seven basic channels,” says Health and P.E. teacher, Ms. Audrey Sieren.

In a world with false information being shared daily, it is important to have the skills to determine which stories are fake. One way to do this is to check the source of the story. If the article was written or published by a credible organization, there is a higher chance that you can trust it. The job of these organizations is to give the public accurate information. A general rule of thumb is that if you have heard of the organization, such as The Washington Post or The New York Times, the story in question is most likely factual.

“As a history teacher, we want to know the source of everything,” says Allis. “That’s one of the first things I do when I click on a news story, I scroll to the bottom to see where it came from, and a lot of people aren’t doing that. They just believe the information because maybe a family member or a friend shared it.”

Despite the problems with fake news, many students do understand the importance of using common sense when getting information.

“You can’t just listen to what everyone else is telling you,” says sophomore Michaela Rainey. “You have to do your own research.”