Readers beware of fake news

Ira Lazo,

It’s getting more difficult to distinguish between real and fake news content online.

Like others, I am guilty of re-posting an article based on the title alone, and I have fallen for articles made to look like real news stories with clickbait titles more times than I would ever care to share. For this reason, I’ve chosen to remove the Facebook app off my phone.

The fake news epidemic has been blamed on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Google, as the websites that make propaganda, hoaxes and misinformation go viral. Critics have specifically targeted Facebook, since its algorithm tailors what users see based on their likes and interests, so the more an article is liked, the more often it will show up on people’s feeds.

“Fake news is one of the problems that arises with online communication,” says Cal State East Bay communications professor Grant Kien. “Fake news is provided as a content to appeal to our cynicism; it doesn’t make us more cynical, it already affirms for us what we already believe.”

The issue of bogus articles escalated after the most recent election as people blamed Facebook for Trump’s victory. In an interview given by 38-year-old fake news writer Paul Horner to the Washington Post, he discusses his career writing bogus articles. He talks in detail about his contribution to fake news circulating on Facebook and his presumed effect on the election results. “[People] just keep passing things around,” said Horner. “Nobody fact-checks anything anymore, I mean that’s how Trump got elected.”

Horner’s content was so successful that Trump’s own son, Eric, and his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, both retweeted a fake article he wrote about how a Donald Trump protester was paid $3,500 to protest at one of his rallies earlier this year.

This couldn’t come at a worse time as the relationship between the press and the people continues to erode. According to a study completed this year by the Pew Research Center, only “two in ten Americans trust the information gathered by local news organizations whether online or offline.”

Fake news has been around since before the election, despite efforts by Facebook and Google to make it easier to spot false sources. However, there is no magic wand that will just make it go away. Google has even gone so far as to ban these faux sites from their advertising service that is meant to bring in more revenue. I believe that this is a band-aid, and the problem isn’t solely with the platform but more with our relationship with our phones and the media. Simply put, we now get world news updates and personal family interactions all in one place, and these two shouldn’t be mixed together.

“People use media not to find good information, but as a way for relaxation or connection,” says Kien. “They’re not looking for credible information in the first place.”

I needed a separation: one program for fun and the other to keep myself informed. I decided to delete Facebook off my phone to rewire my brain and teach it to sit down, read and assess an article, rather than aimlessly scrolling late at night or in between classes. In order for our democracy to persevere, we need to trust the media and journalists who are doing their job.