In the new age of social media and content production, many people are finding themselves in a black hole of information that may or may not be true. Often, the things we read online have been fabricated, been blown out of proportion, or is just clickbait. Many readers of online news consume this digital information passively and very rarely engage with the text to research more about the topic.
With technology rapidly growing every day and the fast pace of developed economies, immediacy is at the forefront of consumer culture. Consumers are conditioned to expect information presented to them at face value rather than taking the time to click through to more sites to learn more about a topic. Technology is allowing people to create and produce more creative content that hides it’s credibility through seemingly (but not) verified sources that come across as believable and real to the untrained eye. The immediacy of media is incriminating some news sources and putting their reputations at risk. People are now finding themselves unable to trust the news and are looking for multiple sources for the truth.
When we think of “Fake News” we think of Donald Trump, he is at the centre of this fake news epidemic. Let’s first take a look at the ongoing issue Donald Trump has with “Fake News” or NBC and CNN, tweeting about how dishonest these new sources are.
True that these news sources aren’t the most reputable but it’s ironic that the news source he does trust (Fox News) is even less reputable than NBC and CNN.
According to this study done by Michael W. Kearney on which news sources are and are not trusted (with Trump ranking as the fifth least trusted source) NBC and CNN rank higher as more trusted than Fox News.
But with over 40.5 million followers on Twitter, it is no surprise that some people will take this advice seriously because he is at a position of power, especially through the internet where he has the autonomy to Tweet at random his honest opinions.
Buzzfeed is listed as the second least trustworthy news source, but until recently I had never considered it as a news source at all because of its predominant entertainment value. Buzzfeed, for me was a website that consisted of personality quizzes, cat pictures and gifs representing the struggles of the female body, but this is beside the point. Buzzfeed caters to a passive viewership, it’s content is far from “news”, but it is a news source, nonetheless, that “poses a fresh challenge for traditional media companies as they battle for web users’ time and attention” (Halliday, 2013).
Obviously social media has changed how we communicate. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and others have allowed for unmediated publishing. It has generated a viewership and audience responsiveness that is immediate, thus creating a culture where information spreads like a wildfire. Social media has given people the experience and opportunity to voice their opinions or communicate with others while separating themselves from the real world in what John Suler dubs “dissociative anonymity“. This has made it easy for people to separate their actions from real life by publishing false content and passing it off as truth. With this immediacy people are conditioned to expect in the digital age of social media, these false news stories are mostly not fact checked and are shared worldwide before people have the chance to question it’s legitimacy.
New sources tend to follow this trend of immediacy as events and situations are being broadcasted in real time across the globe. People assume the things they read from these news sources are factual because of the way the news story is presented, usually with statistics, quotes, and sources (sometimes false or taken out of context) and don’t bother to ask further questions.
I think this hoax interview with ‘Jude Finisterra’ from The Yes Men impersonating a Dow Chemical Spokesperson on BBC World promising compensation for the victims of the Bhopal chemical disaster in India 20 years later is a great example of how reputable news sources can have their faults and the how immediacy of the media can be taken advantage of.
After the truth was revealed that ‘Finisterra’ who had appeared on BBC was a hoaxer and was part of the Yes Men’s stunt as part of a contemporary art agenda to “impart a significant political message through the media” (Kim, 2014), the BBC had quickly pulled the video and issued statements claiming they were victims of this elaborate hoax and that “its procedures regarding the trustworthiness of information obtained from websites would be reviewed” (Wells and Ramesh, 2004). Although we can argue it was incredibly problematic to present this piece of art in the context of reality, this incident forces consumers of news media to take a step back and question the legitimacy of the source of their information.
Many hoaxes (some not nearly as elaborate as this) have fooled a wider audience and have generated talk surrounding the situation. This reminds me of Wikipedia and it’s questionable legitimacy in the past, before editors started to crack down on verifiability, where people were allowed to edit pages and create new pages of their own free will, sparking a culture of hoax Wikipedia pages with fake sources.
As someone whose content revolves around the concept of lying and generating fake content, I have to step back and ask myself how this fits into the world of social media and the credibility of news. Am I contributing to the fake news epidemic? In some ways you could argue that yes, I am a creator of fake news and I am teaching my audience to be creators of fake news. But, the way we use this knowledge and information is ultimately up to the users who hold the information. I am merely providing the tools for creating this type of content.
Like the Yes Men, how do we justify how we use this information for the greater public? I think this is a question we all have to ask ourselves as online content creators whose credibility is important to the wider audience. Is this content being published in the context of reality or in our own public spheres online and does it affect the consumer’s lives in real life? I think this is a question of morality that we have to address within ourselves.
Halliday, Josh. 2013. “11 things you need to know about Buzzfeed” The Guardian, 6 Jan. 2013, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/jan/06/buzzfeed-social-news-open-uk
Kearney, Michael W. 2017. “Trusting News Project Report 2017.” Reynolds Journalism Institute, 25 July. 2017, https://www.rjionline.org/reporthtml.html
Kim, Adela H. 2014. “Yes Men Bhopal Legacy.” The Harvard Crimson, 5 Mar. 2014. http://www.thecrimson.com/column/the-art-of-protest/article/2014/3/5/art-of-protest-the-bhopal-legacy/
Ramesh, Randeep, and Matt Wells. 2004. “BBC reputation hit by Bhopal interview hoax.” The Guardian, 4 Dec. 2004, https://www.theguardian.com/media/2004/dec/04/india.broadcasting
razorfoundation. “Bhopal Disaster – BBC – The Yes Men.” 2007. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiWlvBro9eI
Suler, John. 2004. “The Online Disinhibition Effect.” Available from: Cyberpsychology & behavior 7.3 (2004): 321-326. http://truecenterpublishing.com/psycyber/disinhibit.html
Trump, Donald (realDonaldTrump). “I will be interviewed tonight on @FoxNews by @SeanHannity at 9pmE. Enjoy!” 11 Oct 2017. 5:32 pm. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/918227740700102657. Tweet.
Trump, Donald (realDonaldTrump). “People are just now starting to find out how dishonest and disgusting (FakeNews) @NBCNews is. Viewers beware. May be worse than even @CNN!” 12 Oct. 2017. 8:12 pm. https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/918630610167529472. Tweet.