A comprehensive report An examination of how false news stories have influenced our political process and how we can prevent these stories from controlling the press.
The recent presidential election was undeniably one of the most controversial and perplexing elections to date. The term “fake news,” popularised by US President Donald Trump, became mainstream when hundreds of websites published fraudulent and biased articles. All mass media publications – no matter which side of the political spectrum – were affected by these false stories. In a case study published by the New York Times titled “How Fake News Goes Viral”, a photo posted by a Twitter user with a mere 40 followers claimed that protesters were being shuttled in to protest Donald Trump.
The claim was not true. In the days that followed the tweet, the story spread throughout the Trump base, inciting violence against innocent protesters that were expressing their freedom of speech. Another example of false news happened when the BBC misquoted Donald Trump as saying “war will follow”. Trump actually said “more will follow”. The President of the free world suggesting war is a major statement, and many still believe he said this despite the BBC removing the tweet and putting out a statement with the hashtag, “#ourbad”. Failing to inspect sources results in the American public being misled multiple times.
Additionally, fake stories and falsified “facts” have also led the U.S into serious conflict. On August 7, 1964, Congress adopted the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that authorized then-president Lyndon Johnson to use military force in Vietnam. The resolution was adopted after reports of North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacking two US destroyers, the Turner Joy and the Maddox. The House of Representatives endorsed the resolution unanimously. The vote in the Senate was 88-
It was later discovered that the attacks never occurred as depicted and that the account was based on false evidence. Congress was misled into adopting the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, and the fact that the attacks were never investigated shows how deep a problem deceitful stories can be.
HOW TO DECIPHER FAKE NEWS
In this section, I will go over the methods that an individual can use to prevent themselves from believing false stories. I will also review how our government and press can take action to prevent the perpetuation of false stories.
WHAT CAN THE INDIVIDUAL DO?
People can avoid viewing fake news in multiple ways. One example is the International Fact Checking Network, a branch of the journalism school, Polynter. The IFCN allows Facebook users in the US and Germany to flag deliberately false articles. These articles will then go to third-party fact checkers signed up with the IFCN. The IFCN claims to “Promote basic standards through the fact-checkers’ code of principles and projects to track the impact of fact-checking” (Funke). While the IFCN is a pioneer for fact-checkers around the world, the general population is looking for an easier way to incorporate fact-checking into their everyday lives.
That’s where Decodex comes in. Decodex is a more intuitive solution to weed out fake news. ‘You just put it on your browser and then when you come to a fake news site you get a pop up appearing saying ‘warning this is a fake news site,’ says Samuel Laurent, editor on the Decodex team. With the push of a button, you can have fact checkers alerting you if a website is untrustworthy. The largest problem with these solutions is that individuals do not have enough time or energy to seek such programs out. First, users have to understand fake news and how it affects them. They have to seek out the solutions and deal with the problems. ‘We know that we won’t convince everyone and we know that fake newsreaders already think we are the fake news’ Laurent says. Another problem is that these options have been criticized for promoting a left-leaning perspective. Individuals on the right are turned off from using the service. That is the opposite of what the fact-checkers mission statement is: To promote the facts, regardless of political ideology.
Instead of relying on the individual to analyze each news story, many believe that it is the government’s responsibility to deal with false information. As of 2017, Germany has laid the groundwork for a system that deals with fake news. The German Parliament “adopted in June 2017 a law against the posting on social media of hate speech, child pornography, terror-related items, and false information” (France-Presse). If companies like Facebook and Twitter fail to remove this content, they can be fined “up to 50 million euros ($58 million)”(France-Presse).
The law has made companies improve their filtration systems, making fake news harder to be as successful as it has been. Critics say the law could “stifle legitimate free speech by prompting the platforms to excessively delete and censor posts as a precaution” (France-Presse). While the argument is valid, these steps are necessary in order to prevent misinformation. A balance must be found between preserving freedom of speech and maintaining the truth. In America, the political opinions of the spreaders of fake news are protected by the 2nd amendment, but there is still a way to combat these individuals.
According to Legalzoom.com, “The main legal recourse against fake news is a defamation lawsuit. You can sue someone for defamation if they published a false fact about you and you suffered some sort of damage as a result—such as a lost job, a decline in revenue, or a tarnished reputation. If you are an ordinary, private person, you also must show that the news outlet was negligent (or careless)” (Haskins). People cannot rely on their government to make change, so I believe that public schoolsystems, campuses, and parents should inform young people about the dangers of false information and present methods to decipher truth from fiction. It would be nice if the press could promote these methods, but the distrust for the “liberal” press has made it so substantial portions of the American public will not utilize these solutions.
- Wendling, Mike. “Solutions That Can Stop Fake News Spreading.” BBC News, BBC, 30 Jan. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-38769996.
- Maheshwari, Sapna. “How Fake News Goes Viral: A Case Study.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 22 Dec. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/business/media/how-fake-news-spreads.html.
- “BBC Misquotes Trump with ‘War Will Follow’ Iran Tweet, Doesn’t Bother Deleting It.” RT International, RT, 26 Sept. 2018, www.rt.com/uk/439454-bbc-trump-un-mixup/.
- Funke, Daniel, et al. “Fact-Checking.” Poynter, www.poynter.org/channels/fact-checking.
- France-Presse, Agence. “Fighting ‘Fake News’ with the Law.” Rappler, 13 July 2018, www.rappler.com/world/global-affairs/207237-how-countries-fight-fake-news-with-law.
- Haskins, Jane. “Fake News: What Laws Are Designed to Protect.” Legalzoom.com, 3 May 2017, www.legalzoom.com/articles/fake-news-what-laws-are-designed-to-protect.