Thoughts on Fake News

I grew up on The Onion. And, when I say that I do not mean actual onions. In fact, I don’t think I ate a real onion and actually enjoyed it until I was seventeen. No, The Onion is an online satirical news source that often found its way on our countertop, accompanied by the local paper, for our daily breakfasts in the Bouquot household. I learned early on that there were two types of news: the real, factual, true stuff and the playful, exaggerated humorous stuff. And, it was always easy to tell which was which. I went to the Onion when I wanted something like High School Teaches Parenting Skills By Having Students Post Nonstop Photos Of Egg To Social Media and I went to the newspaper or my local news channel when I wanted to know the election results or whether I had a snow day or not. The Onion was there to poke fun at things. It wasn’t always the truth, but we didn’t need it to be because we knew where to get the facts when we needed it.

I remember, back in high school, I would find it absolutely hilarious when a friend on Facebook would mistakenly share an Onion article thinking it was a real piece of news. People would be ranting away about Fun Toy Banned Because of Three Stupid Dead Kids, and my family would just sit back and laugh. It was silly, and it was really easy to tell when something was fishy with an article. The same can’t be said today.

In this past election cycle, we have seen “fake news” rise to an entirely new level. Since it has become so easy for people to create content on the web, people are making thousands of dollars on articles that are completely false. Not only that, but these fake articles are able to reach massive audiences in record time due to the help of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. These “fake news” articles being created now aren’t meant to be funny or satirical. They’re meant to stir the pot and to mislead the public. And, in many instances, these ‘news sources’ have given off a sense of legitimacy. Whereas The Onion is known as a satirical site, many of these articles being shared are coming from sites that are attempting to deceive you. They want you to believe that what they’ve written is actual news. They want to spread their blatant lies.

Here’s the thing, though—fake news isn’t a new concept. During World War II, propaganda was often viewed as a form of fake news because it exaggerated or even outright lied in order to persuade their audience. And, we know that sites such as The Onion which aim to poke fun at ridiculous and outlandish news stories exist as well. The issue has become that with sites like Facebook where people often share articles without even taking the time to read the entire thing, let alone check to see if the site or the article are legitimate. And, even when one takes the time to attempt to discern whether a source is credible, even well-known news sources are having their legitimacy called into question. With a political administration offering ‘alternative facts’ to any statements they don’t wholly agree with it, news giants, such as CNN and the New York Times, are being called out for supposedly purporting fake news as well. How can we even tell whether the information we’re being told is accurate or not anymore? Must we question every news article that comes our way?

The short answer? Yes, that’s probably a good idea. We are at a critical point in our history. We’re coming out of an election cycle in which both sides were encouraged to distrust everything that came out of the other’s mouth. And, with so many unknowns within our country, people are more vulnerable to fake headlines that elicit an emotional response than ever. There is really only one sure-fire way to stop these falsehoods from spreading, and that is to be always vigilant. If something seems fishy, heck even if it seems perfectly reasonable, google it. Make sure that other sources have corroborated the fact. If there’s a story going around that President Obama died, but you can only find that claim on one site, you should be a little skeptical. Why would such a huge story not be on every news site ever? Google a news source to check its reputation. Sites such as Snopes are doing a lot of behind the scenes work to bring false news sources to light. Facebook is working to do its part as well. With all of the fake news that has been spread specifically on its site, it has finally begun to crack down. If an article is flagged multiple times, it goes through fact checkers, and if it appears to be questionable, it is now labeled as such, so people know before they post that the story may be inaccurate.

Look, I understand. This election has been crazy, and with politicians and regular citizens alike throwing insults at each other and making completely bogus claims, it can be incredibly frustrating. And, really, who wants to take the time to fact check every single thing that we read? But, honestly, this is what we must do. We can’t continue to let news sources dictate the information that we receive. We cannot remain ignorant. And we sure as hell cannot continue to let fake news sites play us for fools. We are better than this. It’s not okay that we can’t trust news sources anymore. I don’t think it’s funny anymore when a false article is posted because it has gone from being a satirical joke to spreading misinformation to our friends and family. And, I don’t want to be spreading misinformation. The only place we can read actual fake news is in sites such as The Onion, but I want the real news. I want the things that I read and post to be accurate and truthful and unbiased, and, more than that, I not only want to be informed myself, but I want my friends and my family and the general public to be informed as well. If we want to make and changes in our country at all, we must start with getting the facts straight first.

 

Image credits: Feature, 1, 2, 3

 

Sources: 1, 2