Column: “Fake News” Is Overhyped – Here’s Why

655 views

By Brian Angus | bangus@radford.edu

The news media has been under fire since it’s birth; however, in recent years the fire has grown.

“Fake news” has become a popular phrase, mostly due to President Donald Trump, who frequently uses the phrase to slander journalists and news organizations.

Dr. Nyphan said that fake news websites (defined as sites that frequently publish false or misleading claims that favor one of the presidential candidates) “made up only about 2 percent of the information people consumed from websites.”The phrase is used when describing the news that consists of deliberate misinformation … at least it’s supposed to.

In a tweet last year Pres. Trump went as far as to call the news media “the true Enemy of the People.” However, during Pres. Trump has been making accusations; he has been a contributor to fake news himself. A fact-checking database on The Washington Post’s website shows that Pres. Trump has made 9,451 false or misleading claims, as of Mar. 31, 2019.

While fake news does exist, it doesn’t exist in the mass that Pres. Trump would have you believe.

A study was done by a group of political scientists, assessing information quality in the 2018 U.S. midterm election campaign. Among the scientists involved in the study was Dr. Brendan Nyphan, a Political Science professor at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Nyphan said that fake news websites (defined as sites that frequently publish false or misleading claims that favor one of the presidential candidates) “made up only about 2 percent of the information people consumed from websites.”

To refer to the news media as the enemy is a very bold and reckless statement when there is little evidence to suggest that proper news organizations have published misinformation.

The problem of misinformation lies in the hands of internet scammers.

Today, a website can be created by anyone to spread false rumors. There are “nearly 200 fraudulent domains that were nearly identical to the publications’ legitimate domain names,” according to Domain Tools, a domain analyst company. For example, there was a fake news site with the domain, nytimesoffical.com, mimicking the New York Times website, nytimes.com. These websites look very similar to official news organizations’ sites and can trick people into believing fake news.

Misinformation is prevalent in social media as well. Anyone can create a social media account, and again anyone can spread false rumors on it. Due to the easily consumable and attention-grabbing nature of social media, 68% of people use it to receive news, according to a Pew Research Center survey. That’s many people viewing news on an unchecked source.

“Democracy Dies in Darkness,” is very telling of what would happen if we didn’t have a free press if we were “in the dark.” The reason we have a successful democracy is because of informed voters. If we didn’t have the press reporting the news, then democracy would fall apart.In this article, the term news media is being used to describe established news organizations whose works are written by professional journalists and backed up by fact checkers. The news media is different from social media and fake news sites, and should not be roped into the blame for misinformation. However, that is what has happened, and distrust between the media and the public has ensued.

Support for the news media has been dwindling, and this will only lead to more misinformation. A lack of funds will cause the news media to rely on shaky sources such as social media instead of original reporting. Reporters and journalists will be laid off too, meaning there will be fewer people to observe and hold our leaders responsible.

The Washington Post’s slogan, “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” is very telling of what would happen if we didn’t have a free press if we were “in the dark.” The reason we have a successful democracy is because of informed voters. If we didn’t have the press reporting the news, then democracy would fall apart.

So, instead of bashing the news media, it would be smart to support it. Easy ways to show support are by purchasing a newspaper or online newspaper subscription, reading articles from credible sources, reading from multiple sources, and reading from social media less.

We vote with our attention and money, and by doing these things, we will be supporting honest, informative journalism.

Photo Credit: (Kayla Velasquez | Unsplash)