As the news industry is rapidly evolving with the heavy influence of social media, fabricated news is on the rise. Why do news sites put out fake news? And how has it affected the way we consume and share news?
"Fake and news don't fit together. News is factual, objective truth. You can't fake that." says Don Shelby, former news anchor and investigative reporter. "The public has forgotten what real news is suppose to do in their lives- to inform them so they make better decisions at the voting booth which is the primary job of the press. But now people are trying find out what's happening in the Jolie-Brad Pitt deal. People are vicariously finding that's easier to absorb and they think that's news. That is a problem."
The concept of what news is to the consuming American public has changed vastly.
Perhaps the news landscape has changed vastly due to the rapid surge of the world wide web. Today, there are endless avenues of where to get news. "There are all kinds of other content from sponsored content created by advertisers or companies that are really trying to promote an industry or promote a product and now of course, there's fake news, and it all comes together on this computer," says Chris Ison, former Star Tribune investigative reporter and current University of Minnesota professor.
With the increase use of digital and social media, has news, opinion and entertainment intertwined? Ison says it's hard to know what we are reading at different times and on different sites. "There's a lot more of all kinds of news and communication about news in ways it makes it hard to distinguish one from another."
Shelby explains, "Social media and certain websites on the internet continue with the goal of polarizing and splitting America. Then I wonder, 'is there something behind that? Is there some grand orchestrator trying to make America dissemble and hate each other?"
We use to disagree, but the person you disagreed with wasn't the enemy. You didn't wish for their demise. That's not the case today.
Since newly becoming the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump has been speaking and tweeting about fake news on the regular.
But making up news stories is not necessarily new. However, with the arrival and growth of social media, fake news is on the rise. "A lot of fake news is done by amateurs," says Ison. "You can kind of catch it if you look closely. Stuff that's in all caps probably isn't being done by a legitimate news site. Things that start with 'Not a Hoax' probably are hoaxes."
The internet is flooded with fake news today, with nearly a 100 fabricated sites. According to Wikipedia, fake news sites are recognized by a URL ending in “.co” and are often very similar to credible media outlets.
So why do news sites put out fake news? Ison says there are a few reasons. One being it sells. "They can drive an audience to their websites where they have advertisements and they can make more money on the advertisements. "
How much should be worried by sites that set out to get fake news stories up and running? "We should be very concerned about it," says Ison. "As journalists we should be concerned about it because it is hurting the credibility about what journalists do. But mostly the public should be concerned about it."
We need a public that wants to know the truth. Not a public that wants to have their point-of-view affirmed.
Former Drugstore owner Tom SenGupta has been holding forums and conversations with the community discussing politics and pubic issues, such as the responsibility of the media. He says fake news is dangerous to society today because without truth there is no democracy.
He continues his conversations through the Tom SenGupta Forum at the Augsburg College Sabo Center, where he says his main goal is to make in an impact in society by bringing forth the ideas of the community. As a concerned citizen, he believes it's important to fight fake news.
Democracy depends on truth. Fake news is always untrue. You have to have the truth in what we're reading, in how we're making decisions, what you believe in, you have to have the truth in it. Without that, you're not going to have anything.
Social Media: the Go-To News Source
One of the fastest and most preferred ways for people to get news is digitally. GoMN is just that- a modern, digital news outlet. As the editorial director of GoMN, Reed Fischer says good journalism stems from good intentions and the right skill set. "We want to make sure people understand that we're real. Part of that is making sure people understand that this is a newsroom of people who live in Minnesota and care about what's happening in this state and what's happening in the world."
A Pew Research survey found that six in 10 Americans and 62 percent of adults in the U.S. get their news from social media, Facebook topping the list. "[Facebook] is just a platform for a lot of different news sources," says Ison. "It's an issue because it's a passive way for people to make news choices. Because there's so much different content out there of different kinds with different motivations, just getting news that comes across on your news feed from the people you are friends with and share social media with creates a system where you are not making an active choice."
And now with the majority of adults in America getting their news from digital sources, most traditional news outlets have a social media presence. So then how has social media become an important avenue to distribute news? Shelby says social media has created a level of citizenship. "It has created engagement. People have a voice now, they can speak. People are looking at social media in the upper echelons of journalism. What are they talking about? Let's chase that story. " Fischer explains GOMN finds many of their story ideas from social media. "People posts things that they're excited about and we get excited too. It moves the news process even faster than it ever was before."
As social media has become an important avenue for news outlets to distribute news, the problem of fake news across the cyber world peaked during the last presidential election. According to BuzzFeed, the top 20 fake election news stories gained more shares, comments, and reactions in the last three months of the campaign than the top 20 election stories from 19 major mainstream news sites. 17 of the top 20 fabricated stories were either pro-Trump or anti-Clinton. "We know that some people create fake news for partisan reasons to persuade an audience or prefer a certain candidate or not prefer a certain candidate," explains Ison.
So by using social media as a news sources, are people always looking for information that confirms their beliefs? SenGupta says definitely. "The news media has to go down to the nitty-gritty. They have to get their own credibility back. We, both sides have to reach out to each other and create a community to close this gap we have. Maybe they will listen to our side and we'll listen to their side. And we have to show them that we know we made a mistake in not listening to their suffering."
Then what is GoMN doing to gain a viewer or readers trust? Fischer says because their digital news outlet is newer and younger, they have to be careful of what they're publishing. "Who we're quoting, who our sources are and staying away from language that creates a bias."
And let's not forget the fundamental of journalism- finding and reporting facts. "You have to fact check," says Fischer. "Especially now where it is really easy for someone to just take a tweet that really has no basis whatsoever and turn that into something that may shape what the President is going to say on a given day. That's a great amount of power that someone can have without any factual backing. So of course, everyone on this team understands that you have to trace something back to it's source and see whether it's actually true."
How will the rise of fake news affect the way journalists present and report the news?
Jenny Hanson is a professor at Augsburg College. She teaches a course on social media. One the hottest topics of discussion- fake news. We sat and observed one of her classes and asked the students a few questions.
How do you think fake news will affect our future journalists in the era of digital and post truths?
Student 1: For Journalists, especially in this time when it's so huge in the media, just one little mistake in your writing or your opinion or bias would affect your career or have the potential to affect your career.
Student 2: We don't need to sensationalize anything or to appeal to anything to get more advertising money. I feel like even with the papers here, the Star Tribune or the Pioneer Press, I feel like whenever I look at the paper, I'm like, is this an authoritative source that we can use to document our history or is this more of an entertainment book?
Then what are the guidelines of a true journalist? Is the role of a journalists intended to just report the facts and remain objective? Today, many have gain significant popularity in their commentary reporting, sometimes reaching a wider audience than the traditional journalist.
Do journalist have an obligation to remain unbiased? One of Jenny's students said that people need to recognize that they are being bias. Another student believes bias helps the creative aspect of a piece.
Fischer states we all have our views offline. "We are all going to do things from a certain perspective. But I think you have to put your biases out there. When you're writing something it has to be clear. If I am going to do an opinion piece, you have to say that's what it is so people can understand that. Otherwise, you have to keep bias separate from how you report a story and tell it."
So in a time where the term post-truth was named the word of 2016 by Oxford Dictionaries, how do we debunk fabricated news? SenGupta's advice is that we have to decide ourselves if what we are reading or watching is right. "Is it too good to be true?" Ison encourages people to seek out a newspaper, TV station and other publications; do some research and figure out what they are all about. "Are they there to push a partisan point of view? If that's true, you know you are going to get one side of the story. And it may be distorted a bit. Do they at least try to follow a model of objectivity? That they're trying to give the best of both sides to base their reporting in fact, not opinion."
Don says it takes a critical eye. "Before I click retweet, I am going to find out whether that's true."
And despite the fact that the rise of fabricated news has created obstacles for journalists, it has also shined a light on the issue, bringing it to the public’s attention.
I think it's going to force the public to reflect a little bit and consider whether they want to know the truth or not and to realize if they do, they're going to have to work a little harder to think about where they're getting their information," says Ison.
Although there has been a substantial uptick over the recent years, fake news will always have a place in our society. But it's up to us, as citizens of the cyber world today to fact check and rely on credible news sources.
Promotional Consideration for this episode of OUR ISSUES was provided by GoMN