By now, most of us know about fake news. Or, at least, the specter of it. A faceless entity toppling the status quo with misleading information. Slowly but surely killing our minds.
In reality, it’s simpler than that. Fake news isn’t complicated. It’s not even new. But as recent history shows us, social sharing and the digital news age have made it pervasive – and dangerous – at an unprecedented level.
Before getting into what this means for content purveyors and readers, it’s worth reflecting on how we got here. As mentioned, fake news isn’t something that started yesterday. For a long time, the pressure to get the scoop – and deliver it first – has led to an accelerated need to announce breaking news. In today’s lightning-fast news cycle, everyone is a news source. News travels faster, but it’s not guaranteed accurate. Seeing is believing. And perception is reality (even for sports reporters).
Can you imagine what “Dewey Defeats Truman” could have become with a few promoted posts?
I READ THE (FAKE) NEWS TODAY, OH BOY.
Which brings us to how people ingest their news today, and the dangers therein for “fake news.” In the past year, a Pew Research Center study found nearly half of U.S. adults get news from Facebook. Think about this for a moment. When you filter through your Facebook news feed – or any online news feed – there is tendency to scroll for attention grabbing headlines or engaging, shareable content such as video or images. We’re hardwired to ingest headlines for news because today’s time constraints demand it. Those of us fortunate enough to represent brands know the value of SEO, promoted posts and memorable content. Those who work with, or for, the media also understand the immense pressure to get stories out. But this also creates a perfect storm for unethical behavior that feeds news-hungry readers with misleading and – you guessed it – fake news.
SO, WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT?
Fake news likely won’t vanish anytime soon. But there are some measures we all can take to become more informed news consumers.
- Accept that it’s real.
Dismissing the implications of fake news won’t solve the problem. This isn’t The Onion. If anything, we are learning that fake news has the capacity to impact everything from U.S. presidential election perceptions to the stock market. In recognizing its significance, we can become more diligent and analytical consumers to vet the sources we read.
- Follow others’ changes.
From Facebook to Google, major technology players are making sweeping changes to ensure that misleading news will not appear on their sites. To some extent, this is a response to the high stakes expectation that major news mediums take responsibility for their content hubs. But this is also a prescient move. These companies represent some of the most preferred news platforms in the world. Part of their job is to stay on the frontiers of news availability, while carefully toeing the line between free speech and censorship. It’s important that we understand how it all works to better empower our clients, friends and ourselves.
- Adjust your own habits.
It sounds simple, but stay informed. Read more. Understand the difference between the Baltimore Sun and the (hoax) Baltimore Gazette. As a general recommendation, read more than one news source on any given report. Reading multiple perspectives can help you distill facts from speculation, and empower you to develop more informed opinions.
- Embrace the system.
There’s a lot changing, but the media’s core mission to deliver the news hasn’t wavered. Today provides more options for news consumption than ever before. However, it stills holds true that just because it’s in print or online doesn’t make it official. If you embrace how the media really works, the specter of fake news might, someday, be old news.