The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883

The Vermont Cynic

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Public opinions influenced by increase in fake news

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Raise your hand if you’ve ever scrolled past an factually incorrect article or a misleading post from a friend on Facebook and thought nothing of it.

The prevalence of “fake news” and how often it is taken as fact, reveals the influence social media has on informing and grouping the populous.

As we’ve made the transition from print news to largely virtual information, it’s become increasingly easy for false stories to slide into the view of the masses.

“[We live] in an age where there’s so much active misinformation, and it’s packaged very well and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television,” President Obama said at a news conference in Berlin earlier this month.

Fake news is “designed to be shared on Facebook and social media platforms whose algorithms prioritize stories with high engagement; the amount of people clicking, reading and sharing,” Emanuella Grinberg of CNN said.

Fake news has had real world implications as well.

After an article surfaced claiming the existence of a pedophile ring at a Washington pizzeria run by Hillary Clinton and the chairman of her campaign, John Podesta, an armed man entered the restaurant and fired his weapon, according to a Dec. 5 New York Times article.

The article, published by known false news sites such as The New Nationalist and The Vigilant Citizen, was proven to be baseless, but still led to “#PizzaGate” spreading on Twitter.

“I won’t stop tweeting about #PizzaGate until I know for a fact that there aren’t children in danger being covered up by the U.S. government,” Twitter user @TradSierraHotel tweeted Nov. 20.

Whether or not a report is true does not determine how popular it becomes, which allows organizations and individuals to use deception to further their own agendas.

From the earliest print, to the latest online journal, news sources have never succeeded in being completely unbiased. “Every news site picks and chooses facts that support their own narrative,” first-year David Gabel said.

This election cycle has seen a multitude of politically-aimed phony news stories. With statements, statistics, accusations and rumors flying around the web, it has become difficult to keep track of the truth.

Communities form around these fake articles because “people want, more or less, information that confirms their worldview; we trust information that seems to support what we believe,” Randall Harp, UVM professor of philosophy, said.

Among others, the “alt-right” movement has gained momentum through false journalism, social media and web communities.

According to an analysis of Facebook activity, “of the 20 top-performing false election stories identified in the analysis, all but three were overtly pro-Donald Trump or anti-Hillary Clinton” said BuzzFeed Founding Editor Craig Silverman.

“Most talking points the ‘alt-right’ has are based on some form of misinformation,” first-year Adam Slamin said.

Facebook and Twitter have responded to trolling and abusive language by pledging to crack down on fake news and suspend illicit accounts, according to a New York Times article by Gardiner Harris Nov 17.

“I think they’re triggered by this narrative that social media helped elect Trump and they think that they have to do something about it,” said Richard Spencer, prominent ‘alt-right’ leader and one of many whose Twitter account was banned, in a video by the National Policy Institution.

The maintenance of open communications for people of all opinions is the true solution to the prevalence of fact free journalism.

“To solve the issue of fake news, you need a metric for reliability,” Harp said. “The responsibility lands primarily on the consumer.”

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The University of Vermont's Independent Voice Since 1883
Public opinions influenced by increase in fake news