Recently, there has been a concerning up rise of “fake news,” originating online, and then perpetuated on social media. In fact, analysts confirmed that during the 4 weeks before the 11/9/16 presidential election, “fake” news stories outnumbered fact-based news that was passed along on social media. Sadly, there are dozens of recent “fake news” stories, and those online lies have REAL WORLD REPERCUSSIONS.
For weeks before and after the election, a fake story was circulating the dark corners of the web, falsely stating that Hillary Clinton was sex-trafficking, raping, and killing children. Edgar Welsh was reading dozens of these fake news stories, and committed himself to “saving” these children. So on 12/4/2016 , Welsh, a 28-year-old father of two & armed with an AR-15 assault rifle, walked into a Washington state pizzeria to find these children who were allegedly held in the backrooms of the building. Even though the fake story had long been debunked by many media and police organizations, this lie was continually passed on email, Facebook, twitter, and all aspects of online fake-news organizations. Thankfully, no one was killed in this particular incident and the gunman was arrested, but since then, the innocent pizzeria customers, owner, and employees have been targeted with online and personal threats, even though — again, this was a 100% FAKE STORY MADE UP ENTIRELY ONLINE.
This “underscores the stubborn lasting power of fake news and how hard it is to stamp out. Debunking false news articles can sometimes stoke the outrage of the believers, leading fake news purveyors to feed that appetite with more misinformation. Efforts by social media companies to control the spread of these stories are limited, and shutting one online discussion thread down simply pushes the fake news creators to move to another space online.
‘The reason why it’s so hard to stop fake news is that the facts don’t change people’s minds,’ said Leslie Harris, a former president of the Center for Democracy & Technology, a nonprofit that promotes free speech and open internet policies. When users are caught abusing the terms of one media platform, they simply go to another, she said.”
Other recent conspiracy theories:
*Hillary Clinton has cancer and is too sick to lead the country.
*Barack Obama was born in Kenya, and isn’t the legitimate president of the U.S.
*President George W Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks before they happened.
*The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) includes “death panels” to deny old people access to care.
*The Sandy Hook massacre of 26 people (mostly children) was a fake news story so the government could justify taking away the Second Amendment (Right to Bear Arms).
This list goes on and on, and although there are attempts to slow this perpetuation of lies, Freedom of Speech combined with social media means that this will likely continue to be a social and political problem. Soooooo……
FINAL EXAM QUESTION:
DO YOU HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY IN DISCERNING BETWEEN “FAKE” AND “REAL” NEWS STORIES? WHEN YOU SEE A PROVACATIVE ARTICLE ONLINE, WHAT RESEARCH METHODS CAN YOU USE TO CONFIRM ITS VALIDITY? FINALLY, WHY DOES THIS DISCUSSION MATTER?