The other day I attended a forum on fake news, with Mike Schaffer, VP of global communications firm Edelman, and Chris Ison, former investigative reporter (and Pulitzer Prize winner).
They talked about the huge problem of fake news in this past election, and anyone who loves democracy and freedom is rightly pretty freaked out about its rise. If one can’t distinguish between credible & fake, we are pretty well doomed.
Chris and Mike explained that fake news is simply a product, in large part, of technology and the free market. Social media, Google searches and sites, all have associated ad-content. If you drive traffic to your site, you make money. Some fake news creators made hundreds of thousands of dollars during the election. Many didn’t even live in the U.S.—they just preyed on our gullibility.
Part of the problem in distinguishing what’s real and what isn’t is that technology has allowed all of us to become publishers, and it’s hard to differentiate one site from another anymore. It’s power to the people in a way, but that adage of power and great responsibility—we’re skipping the responsibility. And we’re being taking advantage of and manipulated because of it. The presenters encouraged us to find about 4-5 trusted news organizations—do real research on them (try to prove their stories false for awhile), and turn to them often.
I heard once from some wise sage that a person should try not to believe in anything too much, because to believe is to stop evolving your mind. It's ok not to have an opinion or take sides on something. Keep an open mind. Fake news can rise because most of us want our opinions validated rather than challenged. And when in a charged environment like the last election, it was an explosive echo chamber on social media.
A few fake news examples:
- Pope endorses Trump. This was a fake story that got lots of traction. The reality is that the Pope has consistently talked generally about being open to refugees and immigrants, and against building walls. He didn’t name names though, so who knows who he was talking about.
- The CEO of Pepsi supposedly told Trump supporters to “take their business elsewhere.” Did not happen.
- Recent: Trump claims NYTimes story about not speaking with Chinese minister since Nov. is fake.
And it’s not just adults of voting age, too—future voters of America, a Stanford study just found, have a 'Dismaying' Inability To Tell Fake News From Real.”
So what to do?
Chris and Mike told us that the media, and we readers, need to take the emphasis off polls, and away from Twitter. That’s all quick and easy, but the press need to run—and we need to read—more stories on issues and on what might happen with policies. As we’re seeing, that’s all happening (amidst much chaos) after the election.
What can you do personally?
Invite your opinions to be challenged. Read a couple conservative news sites like Fox, or the National Review. Understand another perspective—it may strengthen yours, or change it.
Give to the Knight Foundation, a national foundation that invests in journalism and in the arts in order to foster informed and engaged communities--essential to a healthy democracy.
Donate to the Committee To Protect Journalists, an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide.
Most important of all--Make a pledge to do good.