It’s the middle of 2020 and you find yourself scrolling through Facebook. You see ads from amazon, updates of the upcoming election, riots in new cities, reports of racism in corporations, hospitalization rates increasing, political memes, rumors of another lockdown, the President tweeting about who wronged him, the list goes on and on. Media is filled with information, each story trying to drown out the sound of the other, making it increasingly difficult to keep your head above the water. Who are you supposed to trust? Who can you trust? In this historic year of 2020, it is more critical than any year before to be able to discern what is true. This bombardment of information causes the truth to be lost. Therefore, it is vital to find a way to label fake news; whether it be filtering done by organizations, requiring articles to be labeled as fact or opinion, or better teaching citizens to recognize deceit in the media.
Deliberate misinformation, also known as fake news, continues to run rampant in society today. With over a billion users, platforms such as Facebook and Instagram spread information across the globe in one simple click. Other platforms like Twitter and Tiktok continue to increase the spread with each platform having over 300 million users. Though these platforms are often used to spread trends, share viral videos, and post memes, they also have a deep impact in the way society functions. People rely on these platforms not only for entertainment, but for news. Ann Musgrove reports on a survey done by Pew Research Center that “62% of American adults get their news from social networking sights” (Musgrove, Powers, Rebar, & Musgrove, 2018). However, as more users read the titles and short summaries rather than reading the article in its entirety fake news and clickbait are more easily spread (Choi, 2020). This can quickly cause contention among citizens as they begin to believe false information to be true.
This article will discuss what “fake news” is, diverse ways it’s affecting society and what preventative measures can be taken to stop the polarization and negative impacts on nations today.
Researchers and scholars have much to say about the impact of fake news on social media. Many discussions about the adverse effects on politics, companies, and the impacts it has on different generations. There has been much said about the definition of fake news, though differing in some ways, in the end the effect is the same. Even with increased talk about each of these topics and more, there is little about the prevention and stopping of fake news. Many resources discuss preventive measures that can be taken, but no one has found a clear answer. However, throughout each of these sources it is found that fake news is having an impact and will continue to have more power unless something changes.
Fake news is defined by some to being misleading news created by “fabricated information” (Lazer et al., 2018). Others have explained it to be false information that the source “unprecedented misinformation” (Choi, 2020). Professors from the Pennsylvania State University explain fake news as “a type of false information to deliberately mislead or manipulate public opinion” (Cui, Wang, & Lee, 2019). It is clear to see that there is a negative effect on those who see it and believe it. Peter Adams, a vice president from News Literacy Project, states “We are hardwired to notice patterns, and if we see a false claim repeated over and over again, it starts to feel true even if it’s not” (Choi, 2020). That is the power of fake news, as it gets distributed even when people know or can sense that information could be false or deceptive. No generation is immune to this.
Journalist Matthew Choi from Politico explains that Gen Z are the most prone to being aware of fake news, most can recognize false or misleading information. Yet they are not invulnerable, and like many others, fall susceptive to misinformation often from peers. Choi shares a recent story of just how fast misinformation can spread. Amid the 2020 election, a young woman went out to check her mail. Upon pulling it out she found that her mail-in ballot was a Trump pamphlet. She was furious and stated in a video on TikTok, “I almost threw it away because this is what is looks like.” Platforms began claiming that the government is so corrupt that an absentee ballot is now an advertisement, “Trump is a dictator,” and even a statement that, “fair and free elections are out the window”. However, when fact checkers investigated this story, they found that what she had received was not from the government, but a voter registration form sent from a political party that happened to arrive the same time as her ballot. When the woman realized what it was, she tried to stop it. She had success with most platforms that shared it, but the impact of her video had a great effect on many people and their opinions of politics (Choi, 2020).
With stories like the one above, it is easy to see how misinformation can quickly turn into the culminating of fake news. In spite of that, fake news often is intentional. This can be found in politics as many politicians use it as a tactic to shame their opponent. There is data that shows, “115 pro-Trump fake stories that were shared on Facebook a total of 30 million times, and 41 pro-Clinton fake stories shared a total of 7.6 million times” during the 2016 election (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017). Political fake news spread by media continues to spread from sources not directly tied to the government party. During the 2016 election an article hit headlines about the Pope endorsing Trump (Allcott & Gentzkow, 2017). This took off in the media, and many believed it to be true.
Fake news can have an impact on more than just politics, it directly effects brands and companies that get attacked by people spreading false information about them. This can quickly lead to loss in money and business for a company. For example, a fake news article was spread about the shoe brand New Balance. This false source misquoted one of the New Balance CEOs and stated, New Balance offers a wholesale endorsement of the Trump revolution”. This launched the trend of throwing away or burning the shoes by the leftist community. These quickly became known as the “official shoes of white people” (Obada, 2019). This one false story left New Balance the difficulty of clearing their name. The impact of fake news on companies is immense and can change a consumer’s view of that company. When consumers no longer want a companies’ products, that company is going to take a hit.
There have been studies about college students and their levels of trust in the media. It was found that most college age students don’t go to media for their news and are skeptical on what they read unless it is from an account that they trust. It was found that most students would try and compare the information they were reading to other sources to find if there were parallels. However, when they were asked where they learned these skills a common response was, “they didn’t learn it at school, just by themselves” (Eger et al., 2020). It is interesting to note, though fake news has a vast impact on society, learning how to recognize it is not required in school curriculum.
Scholars have continued to talk about different ways to increase critical thinking that will help users be able to notice when things are true or not. One of the ways is done by following the “CRAP Method.” The acronym stands for currency, reliability, authority, and purpose or point of view (Camacho, 2020). This abbreviation is a simple way to remind users what to look for when determining if it is a trustworthy source. As a user checks for things such as date, who the author is and the reason the article was written they will more successfully be able to recognize false information.
Other scholars are discussing the possibility of more organizations that come together to determine if a source is reliable. There are existing groups such as PolitiFact, a volunteer organization that determines the truth of many political statements and articles. PolitiFact takes opinions into consideration and labels articles as “true”, “mostly true”, “false”, “mostly false”. Research continues to find information that when articles are labeled “rated false” consumers are less prone to believe the article (Clayton et al., 2019).
This information was found through using EBSCO data base searcher and Google Scholar. After searching statements such as: “fake news and social media”, “the impact of fake news” I sifted through the results to find peer reviewed journals for this information. I researched sources such as Politico, a political website that reviews political articles. I examined the different views of PolitiFact to find out if they were truly unbiased. I continued to look for fake news on my social media pages to find examples and to test recommended methods.
It is simple to see that fake news continues to reach billions across the globe impacting politics, businesses, and relationships. It’s not something that is going to go away. Consequently, it is not something that society should except as being normal. This is something that can be changed and diminished as certain structures are formed. Through carefully analyzing reports and studies from researchers, strides of improvement can be made. Creating more organizations, such as PolitiFact can help verify sources. These will be increasingly important as misinformation can be spread. Similarly, in reference to the story of the mail in ballot, a company was able to catch the misunderstanding and quickly solve the problem. When there are more organizations to watch, fake news can be caught quicker and the spread of it will decrease. These types of organizations could be included in social media platform teams. Think of the impact that could be made if major social platforms had specific teams watching for fake media daily.
Another improvement that can be made is educating the population with knowledge of how to recognize false information. Making it simpler for viewers to verify sources by labeling articles at the top of pages can decrease the spread of fake news. These labels will let people know that the piece is an opinion, factual, or biased. Power needs to be given back to the people, not in the sense of their first amendment rights, but that they are free to understand and decipher the information that surrounds them. “For the marketplace to operate effectively, people must have a meaningful opportunity to discern what is true and false” (Walters, 2018). Ignorance is not bliss; ignorance prevents people from being able to see the whole picture. Recognizing fake media is essential for the wellbeing of politics, businesses, and society as a whole.
Allcott, H., & Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(2), 211-236. doi:10.1257/jep.31.2.211
Aswad, E. (2019). IN A WORLD OF “FAKE NEWS,” WHAT’S A SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORM TO DO? Utah Law Review. Retrieved 2020.
Camacho, L. (2020, December 3). MCOM 320: Finding Articles. Retrieved December 10, 2020, from https://guides.lib.byu.edu/c.php?g=216367
Choi, M. (2020, October 12). When Gen Z is the source of the misinformation it consumes. Retrieved December 10, 2020, from https://www.politico.com/news/2020/10/11/gen-z-misinformation-politics-news-conspiracy-423913
Clayton, K., Blair, S., Busam, J. A., Forstner, S., Glance, J., Green, G., . . . Nyhan, B. (2019). Real Solutions for Fake News? Measuring the Effectiveness of General Warnings and Fact-Check Tags in Reducing Belief in False Stories on Social Media. Political Behavior, 42(4), 1073-1095. doi:10.1007/s11109-019-09533-0
Cui, L., Wang, S., & Lee, D. (2019). SAME: Sentiment-Aware Multi-Modal Embedding for Detecting Fake News. International Conference on Advances in Social Networks Analysis and Mining. Retrieved 2020, from https://dl.acm.org/doi/pdf/10.1145/3341161.3342894
Eger, L., Egerova, D., Micik, M., Varga, E., Czegledi, C., Tomczyk, L., & Sladkayova, M. (2020). Trust Building and Fake News on Social Media from the Perspective of the University Students from Four Visegrad Countries. Communication Today, 11(1), 73-85. Retrieved December 9, 2020, from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=4&sid=4e0ac367-c092-4f20-89ab-af59ab1795c0%40sdc-v-sessmgr01
Lazer, D. J., Baum, M. A., Benkler, Y., Berinsky, A. J., Greenhill, K. M., & Menczer, F. (2018). The Science of Fake News. Science, 359(6380), 1094-1096. Retrieved 2020, from https://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6380/1094.full
Musgrove, A. T., Powers, J. R., Rebar, L. C., & Musgrove, G. J. (2018). Real or fake? Resources for teaching college students how to identify fake news. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 25(3), 243-260. doi:10.1080/10691316.2018.1480444
Obada, D. (n.d.). Sharing Fake News about Brands on Social Media: A New Conceptual Model Based on Flow Theory1. Journal of the Seminar of Discursive Logic, Argumentation Theory and Rhetoric, 144-166. Retrieved 2020, from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=5&sid=4acc7c81-7ae2-443c-8847-76c52e07ea7b%40sessionmgr4008
Walters, R. M. (2018). HOW TO TELL A FAKE: FIGHTING BACK AGAINST FAKE NEWS ON THE FRONT LINES OF SOCIAL MEDIA. Texas Review of Law and Politics, 23(1), 112-177. Retrieved 2020, from http://web.a.ebscohost.com.erl.lib.byu.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=3&sid=5a36a738-b269-46f0-bdd3-3e99ad06b550%40sessionmgr4007