Fake News, Real Consequences

by Sarah Willson

Fake news can fill in the spaces of people’s knowledge with misleading information and is being spread through the modern-day media model of developing a target audience for advertisers to pay to reach, according to Craig Silverman the Media Editor at BuzzFeed.

Fallacies are increasingly being spread as individuals, particularly teenagers from Macedonia, use the modern-day media model for profit, explained Silverman.

They create a fake news site, write articles that satisfy the opinions of individuals, make multiple fake social media accounts and share the article to imitate traffic on the website. These “purely partisan and purely emotionally driven sites” are then able to make money from advertisers without them knowing it is a fake site.

“The headline [of news stories] often grabs people, but it’s often what is misleading people,” said Silverman. “Fake news sometimes fills in the gaps of people’s knowledge,” said the Toronto native to a crowd of about 110 people, Thursday night Feb. 16, at a presentation run by the Central Connecticut State University’s Department of Journalism about the current surge of fake news online.

Silverman explained how certain biased, untruthful and fake news sites are misinforming and confusing many Americans, and being spread through social media and fake news sites. Emotionally driven articles receive more of a reaction and in turn, more traffic, “because it makes an argument they want to push forward,” said Silverman.

The major factors that ultimately drive misinformation and misperceptions into the public eye. These include propaganda, hoaxes, un-credible news websites and fake news.

Fake news can come about within a society, emphasizing the fact that it often arises due to strong emotions and beliefs, according to Silverman, who is also the author of “Regret the Error,” where he reported on the issues and trends regarding the accuracy of the media.

“Rumors emerge in situations of uncertainty, fear or lack information,” said Silverman. “There’s never been a communication platform with that many people in history,” said Silverman, referring to social media, which he believes ultimately makes the public more susceptible to fake news.

Facebook, in particular, was notorious for spreading fake news during the 2016 election. The algorithmic filtering and lack of differentiating on social media account puts avid social media users in a “partisan echo-chamber,” said Silverman. This gives misleading and emotionally driven fake news sites an environment to thrive in.

According to a study done by Silverman, between February and Election Day, the total number of shares, reactions and comments for a piece of content on a Facebook source, soared from three million to 8.7 million.

Silverman believes this is due to a battle for attention; saying that it is fiercer than ever before, as social media has “achieved a scale unheard of in the history of human communication.”

One CCSU student had a lot to say about the epidemic of fake news like Silverman emphasizing how it’s taking a toll on the American people.

“If I want to stay informed about anything that is going on, I should probably come and see someone that’s speaking about it that has actual background in the media,” said freshman Amanda Rotch.

More than anything, Rotch was particularly concerned with President Donald Trump’s take on the media.

“I think it’s his way of dodging facts that he decides aren’t putting him in a good light,” said Rotch, referring to Trump’s comments about the media. “He’s finding a way to warp it so that the people who are reporting the facts about him are the ones that are at fault.”

“I think that he’s a businessman” said Rotch. “They’re very good at mincing their words.”

When asked about how to combat fake news, Rotch said she believed informing the public about it was the best way to stop it.

“Even stuff like having someone come here, who’s in the industry, and give a talk on fake news and his opinion and everything, I think is a way to help inform people and help them feel like they know what’s going on,” said Rotch.

Silverman also gave his opinion on the best way to not only stop fake news, but also how to regain the trust of journalists, who often bear the brunt of dealing with misinformation.

Silverman argued that ground rules need to be established when it comes to regaining the trust of journalists.

“The price for mistakes is greater,” said Silverman, believing that some journalists need to “slow down” in order to make sure they get the facts right before they are presented.

As for combating fake news, Silverman says the best way to do it is by informing others that what they are often seeing, reading and sharing is not always accurate.

“Don’t attack the person who shares the fake news, and don’t be confrontational,” said Silverman. “Listen to what they have to say, have a human conversation.”

Silverman also recommended showing the person trustworthy news sites.

For further information about fake news and how to combat it, Silverman recommended visiting thenewsliteracyproject.org, which informs and educates young people about journalistic integrity and the difference between facts and fiction.

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