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The truth of "fake news" and the American mind

by Breonnah Colón - Lifestyles Editor
Tue, Feb 20th 2018 09:00 pm

The phrase “fake news” has been thrown around a lot over the past year, originating largely in part from the mouth of our impetuous president. Once upon a time, news coverage was considered an integral aspect of being an informed and knowledgeable citizen of the United States, and rightfully so. After all, we can’t have perspectives and thoughts on issues if we aren’t aware of those issues in the first place. 

Nowadays, news is more often a reference to a questionable article that went viral on Facebook than anything else. People can’t even tell the difference between news, fake news and gossip anymore, which is becoming a bigger problem than most of us would like to think.

What started out as a sort of personal thought has snowballed into a very messy and ultimately destructive social disparity, much like our presidential election. Also, like our past election, the results of this situation have left Americans isolated, lost and confused. We are currently in a situation where our sense of perspective is off tilt; we desperately need to get it back. Part of the way to do that is by understanding the difference between actual and “fake news,” and if you have a hard time with this, no worries; this article should help straighten things out.

First and foremost, what the heck is fake news? 

According to dictionary.cambridge.org, fake news is defined as “​false stories that appear to be news, spread on the internet or using other media, usually created to influence political views or as a joke.”

So, fake news is not a biased take on a story — that’s wrong, but not fake. It’s not a perspective you don’t like — that’s annoying, but not fake. It’s also not an issue you don’t care about — that’s just life. Fake news is the intentional creation of a story that never took place. Creating facts, events and statistics are all instances of “fake news.”

The issue with the current epidemic of the notion of “fake news” is not just lack of understanding what the phrase refers to, but also the inability to identify information as such and by further extent, the lack of being properly informed and acting in an uninformed way. The Scientific America recently published an article which described the idea that fake news has the ability to not only deter people’s judgement, but allow that judgement to remain, even if information is presented that clearly proves it wrong.

For example, the article explains an experiment that took place, in that a group of people were presented with a piece describing a nurse who allegedly stole money and medication from the hospital she worked at for two years. Afterward, the group was asked to assess her character — they all viewed her negatively. Later, a select few were exposed to information which clearly explained the information presented in the previous article and were again asked to assess the nurse’s character. While most people would assume everyone’s assessment would change since the information they were presented with was false, some individuals stuck with their initial reaction.

There are some factors that played into this reaction, one of which was cognitive ability, defined as “brain-based skills we need to carry out any task” according to sharpbrains.com. This can be impacted by age and educational levels. The article also explained that being exposed to the same information over and over can impact an individual’s likeliness to believe it, regardless of whether or not the information is true. This is actually something we come across frequently in our everyday lives, especially through use of social media. There are lots of websites and online content that present itself as news, but in reality, are not. 

Some examples of this are Buzzfeed and Breitbart. These sites have information that are written and presented as articles, which is typically confused as being a news article, and by further extent, actual news, just because of its written structure; however, the information presented may actually be a form of gossip or sensationalism. It is extremely important that this is understood because the information presented in these articles, if not properly assessed, can lead to some very negative choices and actions by everyday citizens.

True journalism is a sort of mix between science and art. Any ethical journalist understands that their work requires nothing less than the utmost truth, regardless of its content. Any article should have information that can be verified in multiple ways by trusted sources. A proper news article has more than one source, properly identifies that source and, if information is misrepresented, will address that fact in a way that is apparent to its audience. 

So, let’s be careful about what we’re labeling as fake. Access to news and the implications that come with it have the potential to shape society as we know it. Journalists take creating news content very seriously, and readers must take the same precaution in consuming it. Otherwise, the entire world will succumb to one huge 2016 presidential election, and we certainly don’t need that.



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