Raising the Standard.

Facebook, Fake News, and a Polarized America

The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, host to many recent claims of ‘fake’ news, in the White House. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the world of social media and instant news updates, the trend of “fake news” and misleading information plays an increasingly important role in contemporary politics. While news updates and articles occur faster than ever, journalistic ethics seem to be lagging far behind. Although the term “fake news” has been trending of late, it has been around for a very long time. Governments and media outlets have used fake news and biased information for centuries to achieve a political agenda. While there are many trusted and unbiased sources out there, there are still many sources that are biased and overlook important facts. While we live in a time where the truth lies in the palm of our hand, it is increasingly important that we do our own research to make sure we are receiving the most genuine and accurate information.

One place where fake news seems to thrive is social media sites, such as Facebook. A reason for this is that people seek instant confirmation of their political bias and, with the click of a button,  can share it with every one of their like-minded friends, making it that much easier to spread fake/biased news. With that being said, there is no mystery why these popular sites are currently losing the battle to fake news.

In August of 2016, a critical point in the presidential election, Facebook decided to fire their human editors working with trending topics. Just three days later the site was already trending fake news stories. While Facebook claims that their trending feature is now “fixed,” they are still in the early stages of fighting misinformation. Facebook claims that they are taking steps to fight fake news, but many shareholders and users are displeased with the lack of progress. Facebook will have to do more in the coming months to address the issue of fake news as well take more responsibility for the content that appears on their website. Many people use social media as their only source for news; they should be presented with clear and accurate information that is not misleading. 

Recently, many trusted news outlets have made back and forth “fake news accusations” towards each other. In addition, President Trump has made many fake news accusations toward trusted news outlets like CNN and The New York Times over the past couple of months. In a press conference, Trump told CNN reporter Jim Acosta that his “organization is terrible” and refused to give him a question. He later told Acosta that he was “fake news.” While it is not appropriate for the presidents to exclude CNN (the way Obama tried to exclude Fox News) from legitimate consideration as news sources, many have expressed recent disapproval towards the news outlet.

CNN was once a fairly neutral option between Fox News and MSNBC, but has evolved to be just as left leaning as MSNBC of late. CNN has made it clear that they will be at war with the Trump administration for the next four to eight years. While CNN is not legitimately “fake news,” their recent headlines have been irrelevant and unprofessional. Trump is wrong to claim that “any negative poll is fake news,” but his overuse of the term has caused it to lose some of its meaning and has almost turned the phrase into a joke.

One quintessential example of extremely poor journalistic ethics was Sabrina Rubin Erderly’s 2014 Rolling Stone story “A Rape on Campus.” The now-retracted story states a female UVA student’s “rape” experience at a fraternity party. The story, which specified a fraternity (that was subsequently vandalized and repeatedly targeted in other ways) and called out a dean of the school in the mess, was retracted weeks later after Charlottesville police could find no substantial evidence that confirmed the story’s authenticity. Rolling Stone Magazine was eventually found liable in the defamation of a former UVA dean who was falsely portrayed in the story. Stories like these are extremely irresponsible and they are an insult to readers, to the journalism profession, and (in this case) most of all, to the men and women who are legitimate victims of sexual assault.


So… Is fake and misleading news hurting our country?

Yes and no. A recent Fox News Poll shows that 61 percent of people are very concerned that fake news is hurting our country. That being said, a recent NYU and Stanford study shows that fake news did not affect the result of the 2016 election. Despite the truths or falsehoods that may lie in these studies, fake news still contributes to the polarization of our already divided country, and this is indubitably a poor thing for the nation. When readers see a headline that claims Neil Gorsuch founded a ‘Fascism Club’ in high school, they are angered and are driven further to the left. 

Is this headline true? Absolutely not.

Does that matter? Not as much as it should.

In a country where voter turnout is around the same as our Super Bowl viewership, all it takes is for people to read the headline and their opinion is set. The chances of them fact checking the claims are slim.

As citizens of the United States, it is important for us to be wary of the things we read and the information that is given to us. While not every news story is “fake,” it is important that we do our own research to make sure we receive the most genuine and accurate news. If the media were more moderate, many people sitting on extreme ends of the political spectrum would find reason to move toward the middle. The media is essential to the proper functioning of a democracy; when it is overtaken by falsehoods and extreme bias as it was under Stalin and Hitler, things can go very south.

 

— Ian Lacroix is a freshman studying political science. He is a first-time contributor to THE ARCH CONSERVATIVE.

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