Social media has brought upon a new and more convenient way for people to receive their news. People are increasingly relying social networking sites such as Facebook as their primary news source. In light of recent events, the existence of fake news has become more prevalent and news readers, especially on social media, are often being misinformed or confused by the fabricated news stories. Unfortunately, fake news has the tendency to go viral, as the stories are so shocking that people often share it before they have the time to go over the entire article. As people are increasingly becoming more susceptible to false news, we must look at why it exists and who is responsible to identifying false news and preventing the spread of misinformation.
Social media as a news source
Social media has become a popular source of news for many in the recent years. It has not only allowed for people to keep up with current events on the go, but it has also made room for people to create and share news themselves. According to Anderson and Caumont (2014), half of social network site users have shared news stories, images or videos , and nearly as many (46%) have discussed a news issue or event. In addition to sharing news on social media, a small number are also covering the news themselves, by posting photos or videos of news events” which has been made possible through mobile devices. Halcomb et al. (2013) say that “News consumers on social networking websites are more likely than the general public to use a mobile device for news” as it has become a convenient way for people to remain up to date with news stories. This transition to social media as a primary source of news has resulted in a decreasing amount of people who still receive news from traditional media outlets such as newspapers, TV, or radio – which arguably, are considered more reliable sources of news.
Why the need for false news?
The growing number of people who are going to social media as their primary source of news have become especially vulnerable to fabricated news stories. The rampant presence of fake news websites and the ability for people to post whatever they want means that not all online news sources are reliable. “Media professionals [have become] less engaged in fact-checking: 51% of British journalists think it is more important to publish the news as soon as possible rather than checking all the facts first” (ING Group, 2015), which means that being the first to provide breaking news has taken priority over being reliable and ensuring that the public is well informed. This issue has risen due to the ever-changing nature of social media, where people are constantly jumping from one news story to another. Therefore, the audiences’ attention is valuable and some journalists have reduced to having to over-dramatize or falsify their news stories in order to grab that attention and hold it for as long as they can.
Olmstead et al. (2011) suggest that ‘‘understanding not only what content users will want to consume but also what content they are likely to pass along may be a key to how stories are put together and even what stories get covered in the first place’’ (as cited in Fletcher et al., 2012, p.817). Unfortunately, people love drama and scandal – but these stories actually happen less often than you might expect. This provokes the need for journalists to fabricate fake news stories in order to please their audience, and some form of false or unreliable content will exist as long as journalists are willing to do whatever it takes to satisfy their readers. Consequently, the responsibility weighs heavily upon people – especially people who are receiving their news through social media – to be able to identify unreliable news sources from a reliable one.
YOU can stop the spread of false news
According to Barthel et al. (2016), “in the month since the presidential election, social networking sites and search engines have taken steps to address the issue. And there have been calls for the government and the public itself to take action as well.” However, news readers cannot solely rely on the authorities to alleviate the situation. They themselves must be aware of where their news stories are coming from and recognize the reliability of different news sources. Barthel et al. (2016) study found that “about half (51%) of U.S. adults say they often see political news online that is at least somewhat inaccurate” and although these stories are not completely false, it would still be best to stop the spread of misinformation as they also found that “about two-in-three U.S. adults (64%) say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events.”
So, it is extremely important to be able to take the time to fact check and ensure that the news stories that you are receiving are cited appropriately and coming from reliable sources. Too often see people scrolling through their Facebook feed and seeing a snippet of the latest scandal and clicking the share button before they even click on the link to look further into the story. This careless dissemination of inaccurate news stories can not only spread misinformation to the public, but it can also be potentially damaging to innocent parties who were named in the fabricated article.
Ultimately, false news will always exist as long as there are people out there are willing to do whatever it takes to have a newsworthy story that everyone will want to talk about. Although we hope that authorities will be able to reduce the spread of fake news stories, we must take it upon ourselves to be able to identify fabricated news stories by investigating where the story is coming from and what its sources are. It is also important to make sure that this investigation is done before the story is shared so that the public will not be confused or misinformed by that news article.
Anderson, M., & Caumont, A. (2014, September 24). How social media is reshaping news. Retrieved February 27, 2017, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/09/24/how-social-media-is-reshaping-news/
Barthel, M., Mitchell, A., & Holcomb, J. (2016, December 15). Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion. Retrieved February 27, 2017, from http://www.journalism.org/2016/12/15/many-americans-believe-fake-news-is-sowing-confusion/
Gottfried, J., & Shearer, E. (2016, May 26). News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2016. Retrieved February 27, 2017, from http://www.journalism.org/2016/05/26/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2016/
Hermida, A., Fletcher, F., Korell, D., & Logan, D. (2012). Share, Like, Comment. Journalism Studies ,13(5), 6th ser., 815-824. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
ING. (2015, October 08). Social media has a growing impact on the news #SMING15. Retrieved February 28, 2017, from https://www.ing.com/Newsroom/All-news/Social-media-has-a-growing-impact-on-the-news-SMING15.htm