The Information Ratrace
The urgency of obtaining and publishing news articles has led to the degeneration of the verisimilitude of information. This is not only the fault of news outlets, but of the readers who consume said media as well. Did you, the reader, ever consider to question whether the vocabulary used in the first sentence of this paragraph was properly used, or mean what you had perceived it to mean? For every vocabulary word that one does not know in a given essay, how often does the reader investigate the meaning and context of the word used to ensure accuracy? The lack of verification behind information we receive and from news outlets who publish news stories often leads to problems with misconstrued constructions of what we believe to be the truth.
The PEW Research Center conducted a survey on how Americans receive news from social media sites. “As of August 2017, two-thirds (67%) of Americans report that they get at least some of their news on social media.” (Gottfried, J., & Shearer, E., 2017). Social media doesn’t take into account the contents of what users post, meaning news of any form can be distributed without discretion. Due to the nature of social media’s vast accessibility, it only further perpetrates the issues by allowing articles (whether accurate or not) to spread without verification. Should news articles contain misinformation, it only serves to misinform and spread confusion among the public. This raises the issue of how many people are questioning the accuracy of the news they are consuming. Part of the reason why fake news is so rampant is because many viewers are eager to believe the first thing they receive due to the convenience of locating news on Google or social media. Social media has been so saturated with news stories that it has become difficult to pick apart relevant information from fake news.
Take the recent Las Vegas shooting for example. On October 1st, 2017, a gunman open fired upon a crowd of people attending a concert. “Links to the 4chan website falsely identified the shooter as Geary Danley, calling him a leftist and Democratic supporter. The misinformation gained traction after Internet sleuths scoured social media to identify the gunman faster than police, and the erroneous report appeared at the top of Google results for searches on Danley.” (Guynn, J., 2017). Despite the lack of information known shortly after the shooting, rumors and misinformation had already begun to spread on the 4chan website, misidentifying the gunman for another individual. For an accusation of that caliber, it can cause undue defamation of an innocent individual, not to mention the disrespect done to the falsely accused to have been associated with the tragic event. The blame not only lies on the users who participated in the misinformation hoax, but on Google as well for listing Danley’s name on top of the search engine instead of the criminal Stephen Paddock’s name. Due to there being no accurate news related to the gunman’s identity, Google’s algorithms are deceived into putting the first result that occurs in their search for related news.
The reason why the blame also falls upon news media outlets is due to the various pressure factors. According to The Guardian, there are “numerous accounts from journalists about the pressures in UK newsrooms that lead to dodgy stories being reported uncritically.” For a news media outlet, having an influx of viewers come to their source as a first means information means more revenue for the media outlet. With profits in mind, news media outlets are likely to resort to obtaining information as quickly as possible in order to draw in readers. As a result, there are many cases in which fake news was reported due to insufficient background checks or a general disregard entirely. News media outlets have recognized methods of drawing viewers in through a particular method known as “click-baiting”; a method in which the title of an article is written in an enticing manner, but does not convey any information about the topic. The issue with this strategy is that the contents of the article are usually very lackluster and uninformative. With the competitive nature of the journalism industry, some companies choose to take any method possible to generate income to eke a profit. However, at the cost of reputation and faith in the news outlet, the resulting fallout of disappointed users may hurt revenue more than the advantage of reporting as soon as possible or drawing in as many users as possible.
As a media content creator myself, it is in my best interest to verify the information I receive, as relevant news can alter my opinions and responses to related situations. This is especially important when it pertains to current and/or sensitive topics. When faced with emerging news, it is prudent to wait for situations to become updated as authorities and experts draw closer to understanding the situation. Double checking information with trusted sources who have garnered trust among its viewer base can help reduce issues with fake news, and brings us closer to the truth.
Dvorkin, J. (2016, April 26th). Why click-bait will be the death of journalism. PBS. Retrieved October 12th, 2017 from “http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/what-you-dont-know-about-click-bait-journalism-could-kill-you/”
Gottfried, J., & Shearer, E. (2017, September 7th). News Use Across Social Media Platforms 2017. PEW Research Center. Retrieved October 10th, 2017 from “http://www.journalism.org/2017/09/07/news-use-across-social-media-platforms-2017/”
Guynn, J. (2017, October 2nd, 2017). Google search spread wrong info from 4chan on Las Vegas shooting suspect. USA Today. Retrieved October 10th, 2017 from “https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2017/10/02/las-vegas-shooting-google-spread-stories-wrong-suspect-4-chan/724109001/”
Rawlinson, K. (2016, April 17th, 2017). How newsroom pressure is letting fake stories on the web. The Guardian. Retrieved October 11th, 2017 from “https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/apr/17/fake-news-stories-clicks-fact-checking”