Fake News: A Global Problem

Picture courtesy of New York Magazine

Picture courtesy of New York Magazine

Sam Mitchell and Julia Wachtel, Editors

While the past election season was rocked by a myriad of scandals, political problems, and discussions, one central issue that has had staying power since the election is the recent proliferation of fake news. Fake news is disinformation and falsified reporting, that is often spread on the internet with the use of click-bait titles and social media. It is important to distinguish fake news from satire in this respect; platforms like Comedy Central and The Onion use sarcasm and misinformation to poke fun at political figures. This is different from fake news, where the lies that are spread are intended to be read as truth. The motive for fake news is usually greed or political malice.


According to Sierra Filucci of Common Sense Media, the rapid increase in fake news is so extreme that Google and Facebook have begun to crack down on these sites. However, this effort is impeded by the ad-driven profit motive of online news companies – even some reputable networks have used half-truths and click-bait headlines to draw in readers, making it very difficult to discern totally fake news from real news.


Many have accused President-elect Donald Trump of fabricating facts and stories during and after the campaign. These stories are usually half-truths, for example when Trump was supposed to have single-handedly saved 800 jobs from being shipped to Mexico. While aspects of this story are based in reality, ignoring the 75,000 Carrier employees who did lose their jobs to focus on a select few is somewhat dishonest. Recently, one such fake article has caused dangerous commotion in real life. In early December, a man walked into a Washington D.C. pizzeria, intent on killing the owners, who he had been convinced by fake news stories to be part of a child pornography ring including Hillary Clinton. While no one was injured, the potential for harm was all too real and stemmed from anger surrounding the false information.


Many sites such as Buzzfeed have been known to use click-bait headlines to get more views on their articles. Articles such as “17 Facts You Won’t Believe are True” grab the reader’s attention with intriguing hooks that ultimately lead to a questionable article.


Common Sense Media provides wary readers with a few methods for determining the validity of an article. Checking urls can be one of the easiest ways to uncover fake news. Many times urls with unusual endings such as “lo” or “.com.co” are attempting to appear legitimate, but a discerning eye can catch these tricks. One can also tell by the headlines and the quality of the articles. Stories with grammatical errors and lack of sources are most likely not reliable.


Another way of checking a source’s credibility is looking through the “about us” section of the webpage. If this information is not available or is available only to users with accounts on the site, it probably means the person or organization supporting the website is being hidden. Finally, emotions definitely come into play with these types of articles. Click-bait and fake news are trying to create a strong reaction from their readers to get them to click on the article. Anything that is too infuriating or exciting to be true, probably isn’t. Finally, make sure multiple sources provide the same information before trusting any sites accuracy.


Disinformation has been around in some form for all of American history. The long legacy of lies, yellow journalism, and click-bait will never end as long as companies can continue to profit off of the fallacies of social media. However, American citizens can combat this onslaught of lies by using a discerning, critical eye whenever presented with information. As long as people keep questioning what is presented to them, it will always be possible to dig up the truth.