Truth Matters Essay
In today’s society, the world is plagued by the phenomenon known as fake news. Fake news is news, political or otherwise, which is seen as damaging to an agency, entity, or person (The Real Story of “Fake News”). It is not, however, a term today’s society has created. Looking back, fake news has always been a part of society, even as far back as 1611 when a British pamphlet told the “true” story of a woman still alive after not eating or drinking for 14 years (Standage).
Ever since the 2016 election, the circulation of fake news has hit the mainstream in ways it never did before. The term is now familiar in every household, and it is almost always used in accordance to President Trump. The election spawned an enormous amount of controversial fake stories that hit the mainstream, convincing audiences that they were true. Websites all over the internet are publishing articles on political issues that hold no truth at all, and they profit from them.
Filippo Menczer, professor of computer science and informatics at Indiana University, wrote an article for Time Magazine on the effectiveness of fake news. In this article, he gives an in-depth look at how these websites contain software and algorithms that generate fake articles and draw people in to create revenue. “I created a fake web page with random, computer-generated gossip news – things like ‘Celebrity X caught in bed with Celebrity Y!’ Visitors to the site who searched for a name would trigger the script to automatically fabricate a story about the person. I included on the site a disclaimer, saying the site contained meaningless text and made-up ‘facts.’ I also placed ads on the page. At the end of the month, I got a check in the mail with earnings from the ads. That was my proof: Fake news could make money by polluting the internet with falsehood.” (Menczer).
Truth always matters, but it especially should in the era we live in. There are so many ways to spread falsehood, but there are also plenty of ways to combat it. Melissa Zimdars, assistant professor of communication and media at Merrimack College, has given a few ideas on how to identify a fake article. She says that paying attention to the domain and URL of a news website will help tip you off to its legitimacy, along with reading the “About Us” section. She also says that checking the quotes in an article might help reveal its truthfulness (Davis).
Unfortunately, fake news has done more than just confuse people. It’s had a polarizing effect on America. Those on the left and right are finding it hard to believe any kind of news, false or true. Not only that, but it is creating a mindset of news as entertainment, rather than news as news. Too often, now, there are people picking out articles that are satisfying for them, personally. Instead of reading the factual accounts of what is going on in our country, people are choosing to let fake news persuade them not to trust anything, which has led to cherry picking political articles.
This polarization of news has caused an even deeper schism between political parties. Facts that should unify America against or for a certain objective are being ignored because of people’s unwillingness to see falsehoods for what they are. Some articles are simply sinister and put out to cause division, and it works because the majority of Americans don’t have the media literacy needed to identify the fake from the real.
If more news outlets set out to do what NPR, Time, and the New York Times are all doing, American would be less divided. Instead of constantly defending themselves against accusations of producing falsehoods, or even accusing others, major news outlets should show the American public how to rightly distinguish between truth and lies. Think of how much less division America will have if everyone is able to discern that the information they are receiving is correct. Of course, it is sad that we must be trained, now, to fact check every article we read, but that could change in time. Like everything, news outlets have to build trust before they can stop being questioned. Sadly, most outlets of today’s time have lost the trust of many people.
In conclusion, America should be educated on how to combat fake news. It has plagued our society and caused deep political division. While it definitely can’t fix political divide, being able to discern a truth from a lie will help draw people together as they look at hard facts, instead of being given what they want to hear or read. The news is not for entertainment, it is for the issuing of trustworthy information to inform the general public, and that is what it must get back to before any kind of division can properly heal.
Davis, Wynne. “Real or Fake? How to Self-Check the News and Get the Facts.” NPR, 5 Dec. 2016 https://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2016/12/05/503581220/fake-or-real-how-to-self-check-the-news-and-get-the-facts. Accessed 3 March 2018.
Menczer, Filippo. “Why Fake News is so Incredibly Effective.” Time, 28 Nov. 2016 http://time.com/4583475/fake-news-effective/. Accessed 3 March 2018.
Standage, Tom. “The True History of Fake News.” 1843, The Economist, June 2017, https://www.1843magazine.com/technology/rewind/the-true-history-of-fake-news. Accessed 3 March 2018.
“The Real Story of ‘Fake News’.” Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/the-real-story-of-fake-news/ Accessed 3 March 2018.