When information circulates with the touch of a button, fake news is rampant and media literacy is crucial to determine fact from fabrication.
During the presidential election, I did my best to stay off social media. Okay, maybe not as much as I could have, but I really tried. Facebook was the worst. Using my fingertip to scroll through my feed, I considered unfriending each person as I read the political stories they shared.
Leaning against a wall waiting to go into class a couple days after the election, I shifted my weight to the other foot as a particular headline caught my attention: “With a Stroke of his Pen, President Obama Permanently Protects Planned Parenthood.”
I got excited. I clicked “share.” But it wasn’t until a friend of mine shared the same post that I realized my mistake. Her post read: “Why are people sharing this? This happened back in September.”
I didn’t read the date. Heck, I didn’t even read the article. I just shared it, and I contributed to the phenomenon of misleading social media news. Even though the story I shared was accurate—just outdated—false stories are shared daily. And not all individuals are able to discern what is credible and what is not.
Americans are aware of this trend, which has led to a great mistrust in “news.” According to Pew Research, 64 percent say fabricated news stories cause confusion about the facts of current world issues and events.
Jonathan Anzalone, assistant director and lecturer at Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy, said the spreading of misinformation is not something that will go away anytime soon. It’s easy for people to skim headlines and share information they have not read in full or verified. We all do it. It’s not just me.
Maegan Ackerson actually spent 60 dollars because of fake news.
While scrolling through her Twitter feed, she read that her favorite artist, Chance the Rapper, was coming to Ball State. Her friends from other universities began texting her and asking if they could stay at her dorm for the concert. Her entire feed was filled with the link to buy tickets. While she was skeptical at first, once Chirp Fest, the twitter page for the organization supposedly hosting the event, shared the news, she assumed it was safe to buy. Like me, she was fooled by fake news.
Even though the story about President Obama was accurate, I mistakenly believed it was a direct cause of Donald Trump’s impending inauguration. Because I shared the story, my Facebook friends then formed their own opinions with the same assumption. Online news allows users to pick and choose what is true. Some might have interpreted my post as an assumption of what Trump would do as president. Others might have been happy that President Obama took action. Either way, the false implication was that the two events were related. Simply because I didn’t look at the article’s date of September 13, 2016.
But Maegan was actively deceived by fake news. Chance the Rapper later tweeted on December 27, 2016 that he was never coming to Ball State, and urged his fans not to buy fake tickets. She was out of money, all due to a fake story. But fake news usually doesn’t involve fake concert announcements or spending money on fake items. Fake news often comes in the form of politically-charged information that supports or opposes certain parties, news outlets, or in the case of the 2016 presidential election, candidates. The source may appear reliable, may seem accurately reported, but may be completely false.
Fake news already has real life effects. We’ve seen hysteria spread as killer clowns supposedly lured children into the woods, causing several schools to close across the nation due to clown threats. But other fake news stories, arguably, had more severe consequences. One of those is the Pizzagate Conspiracy Theory that came out during the 2016 presidential election. In the story, it was alleged that a pizzeria in Washington D.C. was involved in sex-trafficking. The piece went viral, and on December 4, a man who believed the story to be true brought a firearm to the pizzeria to “investigate for himself.” He fired shots into the restaurant, but no one was injured. A fake news story could have caused real life tragedy.
Anzalone said there are steps individuals can take in order to ensure they are receiving accurate information. For one, individuals should stay out of filter bubbles, where we reiterate news with only like-minded people. People should also use their own judgement when evaluating the story. The best rule of thumb, Anzalone says, is to ask “says who?” when reading stories. Sources are good way of evaluating the credibility of the information.
In addition, it’s important to expose yourself to information you do not agree with. By actively seeking all sides of a story, you will have a better understanding of the truth. Or in the case of fake stories, you will know when you are being deceived, or when information doesn’t quite add up with what reputable news sources are saying.
Media literacy is a hot topic as the dust settles from the 2016 election. Journalists are beefing up their reporting and calling out falsities when they see them—especially regarding President Trump. But for the average news consumer, like myself and Maegan, if we evaluate the stories we are reading, and ask “says who?” when we come across any content—not just content we don’t agree with—perhaps we can cut through all of the noise, and stop the spread of misinformation.