Fake News is a Problem: 3 Ways to Fight It
Fake news is not a new phenomenon but, thanks to social media, it is on a rapid rise.
Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, and other platforms have been used to disseminate misinformation all over the nation and around the world. There are so many misleading reports and outright lies that are being passed from one person to another about the pandemic, vaccines, prominent individuals in politics, and other topics to sow distrust and chaos to the public.
What’s worse, people tend to believe them.
A previous poll conducted by the Pew Research Center revealed that Americans see the prevalence of made-up news as the biggest threat to the United States. They believe that it is a major challenge worse than terrorism, racism, sexism, and illegal immigration. About 68% of adults, or one in three, believe that fake news is eroding the public’s confidence in government institutions.
Despite efforts from the government and various internet companies, fake news is still everywhere and it will continue to be a problem.
How Local Journalism Can Fight Fake News
Everywhere in the United States, local news outlets are dying. Thousands of local newspapers have closed in recent years, leaving millions of people without access to a trusted and vital source of information.
And, the huge void it leaves behind is being filled by fake news spread through social media platforms. Up to 65 million people live in counties where there is only one local newspaper (or, with closures, none at all).
Journalists who cover local news for local presses keep government institutions and officials in check. One survey found that the public trusts community news more than the national media. That is because local journalists are part of the community. They cover stories and issues that matter personally to them, to neighbors and acquaintances, and people around them.
So, when local newspapers die, the public lose their voice. They become apathetic and their desire to participate disappears, too. Studies have shown that civic engagement drops while partisanship rises in places where a local press has shut its doors.
With partisanship, people consume information circulated within the “echo chamber,” a place where fake news thrives.
Social Media Needs to Change
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Reddit have become a place where misinformation spreads. With billions of users, Facebook has become the primary medium in which fake news is disseminated. One research found that the biggest social networking site in the world is the referrer site for untrustworthy news sources over 15% of the time, more than Google (3.3%) and Twitter (1.1%).
Some platforms are responding by clamping down on misinformation more aggressively. Twitter has recently started labeling unverified information or outright pulling them from the site to avoid being the harbinger for fake news. Google and Facebook also launched initiatives to fight fake news.
However, more needs to be done. The European Union said that it has found coordinated disinformation activity on popular social media sites despite efforts to monitor the content that gets shared by users.
Fact-Checking Before Reacting
The public can contribute to the fight against fake news through thorough fact-checking. Misinformation is designed to get an immediate reaction from the audience. It inspires anger and fuel hate toward one or a group of people.
When emotions are strong, logic and reason are thrown out of the table. People react and share fake news without knowing it.
Even when the report claims to be from a reputable source, it is up to people to dig a little deeper into the issue and find out if the information relayed was true or not.
Moreover, readers should engage with people who have different beliefs. The old internet adage that warns you not to “feed the trolls” is, according to one research, wrong. People tend to forget that, behind the screen, is another human being.
Starting a dialogue with a person from the opposing side of the political divide is better than ignoring them and allowing them to spew fake news. Instead of trying to win the argument, try to find a common ground. It helps both parties to understand the beliefs of one another. It more effectively changes the mind of someone who may have become a victim of propaganda compared to responding with anger or dismissing their voice.
Fake news is being weaponized by individuals and groups that want to undermine democracy and create chaos among the public. Although it would be difficult, people can fight back by funding local newspapers, changing how social media platforms respond to disinformation, and opening a discussion between people from opposing sides.