When the phrase “fake news” first emerged, I thought it was literally fake news. I thought, “How could the journalism and communications industry allow such a thing as fake news to become so popular?”
As an undergraduate public relations student at the University of Florida, our program has a heavy focus on writing. In a reporting class, a fact error causes you to lose 50 points on an assignment. We work to avoid the dreaded fact error and only publish the truth, as every person working in the communications industry should. But where did our news industry go wrong? How are we supposed to look up to the news industry when they are setting the wrong example?
I don’t think the news industry is to blame. With the rise of the Internet, came the rise of citizen journalists. Citizen journalists aren’t necessarily bad, but when a made-up news story is getting more shares than a story published by a credible news source, we run into an issue.
According to an NPR interview with Craig Silverman, a journalist who has spent much of his career writing about issues of accuracy, fake news stories resonated with readers more than real news, especially during the presidential election. The fake stories that took over Facebook favored a trend of pro-Trump or anti-Clinton, he added.
Now that the election is over, we need to consider how fake news continues to impact our lives. A Forbes article called “Americans Believe They Can Detect Fake News. Studies Show They Can’t” reported that Facebook said it was going to hire third-party fact-checkers to flag articles on a user’s news feed that came from illegitimate news sites. I question whether it’s possible to catch every single news story that comes from a faulty source, especially when an article can go viral in a matter of minutes. Taking a step like this would push the communications industry to a new level to try to earn back the trust of many Americans who believe the news system is broken.
The Washington Post wrote an article with some tips for detecting fake news. Below are five tips for detecting fake news and how we can stop the spread of it.
- Read the article carefully. Ask yourself, “do these quotes make sense?” “Are these sources real people or made-up people with fake titles?”
- Don’t share an article on your social media without reading the whole thing. Some people see an outrageous headline and they share it before reading it. This spreads fake news and is extremely misleading.
- Is the article from a legitimate website? If you aren’t sure, use the “contact us” page to see where the article is coming from.
- Look at the ads on the page. If the pop-up ads are inappropriate it could be a good hint that you’re reading from a faulty website.
- Always double-check the news. Read the same story on multiple sources to see if the facts all check out to be the same on each site.
The real solution to combating the spread of fake news lies in two places. First, American people need to broaden their news horizons. It’s hard to teach people that reading the news from one source just isn’t enough. In order to ensure that people are getting the real facts, they should read, watch and listen to the news from multiple reliable sources. While each news outlet has their own biases, reading the same subject or story from multiple sources will give people a more well-rounded outlook on the news. Second, the future lies in us, the aspiring communications professionals. It is our job to learn from the people who set good examples. We shouldn’t look up to people who are going viral with their fake news articles to spread political agenda and fake stories, but rather to the journalists and communicators that are fighting back with the truth.
Jordan McCrary is a sophomore public relations major from South Florida. She serves as the 2016–2017 vice president of member services for the University of Florida PRSSA Chapter. Jordan can often be found drinking iced coffee, talking about her dogs or volunteering at a local Gainesville elementary school.