Opinion: How to fight ‘fake news’

Posted on Oct 17 2017 - 7:59am by Daniel Payne

It’s been a long day, and you come home to see your social media feed populated with articles about an orphanage that was bombed, a tweet storm from the White House and a quiz that will tell you which puppy best fits your personality.

Which do you choose?

Many students spend their days learning about geopolitical complexities, theoretical physics and calculus. The last thing they want to do is read about more difficult, gruesome topics with no easy answers.

But that’s exactly what we should be doing.

Many complaints you hear about our current political and social climate stem from an uneducated and uninterested public. The puppy videos are easier to watch than the aftermath of terror attacks, but we can’t stop the latter until we face them. If we want change, we have to be educated.

The problems don’t end there, though. Fake news has become a buzzword as misinformation runs rampant. When we do decide to learn about the serious issues we face, we use publications that contain only biases that we identify with. Opinions have become more important than facts, and this is no better than being completely uninformed.

Some media outlets are more deceptive than simply reporting falsehoods. They cover some topics more than others, sensationalizing some minor happenings while belittling bigger stories. This part of a journalist’s job isn’t easy; deciding which stories matter most is a question that doesn’t have a quantifiable answer. That doesn’t mean we can excuse blatant manipulation of an entire audience, though.

How should we deal with these problems? How can we make progress as a generation to be educated citizens that improve the current societal and political problems?

The answers are simpler than you might expect. The first solution: read the things that matter, even when you don’t want to. Sometimes The New York Times deserves more attention than a Buzzfeed quiz. Reading about important topics is better than ignoring them and hoping they will go away.

How do we know what to read, though? There are several approaches to figuring out if an article is fake, but these three considerations are a good place to start:

  1. Who’s publishing this? Is it a source that you have heard of, and is it known for being reliable? Reputation is very important in finding factual reporting, just as you should seek medical advice from a doctor, not an accountant. You should also pay attention to possible conflicts of interest in reporting.
  2. Does the article include sources? If you follow the sources, does the reporting still make sense? Sources are often omitted or quoted out of context in fake news.
  3. Is there corroboration among other sources? The internet has empowered us to fact-check unlike any other generation. If many reputable sources are reporting the same thing, it’s probably true. Just like a courtroom, the more witnesses there are, the more likely a story is to be true.

It doesn’t take an enormous amount of effort to find reliable sources and educate yourself about the world. College graduates are expected to bring fresh solutions to our nation and world, and that will be impossible unless we choose to be informed.

Daniel Payne is a sophomore integrated marketing communications major from Collierville, Tennessee.