Misinformation and Fake News – What Direction Will Media Take?

In a new age of ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’ and ‘post truth’ politics it is hard to trust if the news you are receiving is accurate and the whole story. In 2017, the ​word of the year​ was literally ‘fake news,’ leading many people to ask ‘how did we get here’ and ‘what can we do about it.’ This has also caused many young people to disconnect from news and current events which in turn creates a less informed electorate. However, many young people are also concerned about what is and what isn’t being reported. Can the news outlets be trusted to report the information that we need to know? These are all crucial questions and concerns of our time.

The problem of ‘fake news’ arose most notably during the 2016 US presidential election when the now US President, Donald Trump, coined the term to describe the media reported by reputable and long-standing news sources like Fox News and CNN. Although, the problem is much wider. There are now people who set out to troll internet sites posting false statements from candidates, claims of endorsements, and fake current events. This leads to a significant portion of the public not having correct information on critical issues.

One of the most well-known incidents involves the internationally used social media network, Facebook. Following the 2016 presidential election, the company received a lot of negative press about this issue and lost the trust of its users. What seemed like a new, easy way to get information turned out to be tricking users with false facts and outrageous headlines. Following these incidents and public outcry, Facebook has started to implement new ways of ensuring that internet trolls are not able to distribute ‘fake news’.

Image courtesy of Stacey MacNaught via Flickr, © 2017, some rights reserved.

As reported by ​BBC​, “​One of those steps is the enlisting of the International Fact Checking Network (IFCN), a branch of the Florida-based journalism think tank, ​Poynter​. Facebook users in the US and Germany can now flag articles they think are deliberately false, these will then go to third-party fact checkers signed up with the IFCN.”

This issue is not limited to the US alone and is being fought by countries all over the world. France’s largest news network, ​Le Monde​, created a fake news sensing browser add-on called Les Decodeurs. This allows readers to be notified if they scroll across source known as fake news.

On a more political note, both the UK and the US have accused Russia of ​“planting fake stories”in order to undermine the west. Russian interference continues to be a lingering concern in the US in relation to the legitimacy of President Trump’s campaign and election. Most importantly, this illustrates the gravity of the ‘fake news’ epidemic as it is suspected of interfering with the democratic process.

In order to combat this problem, a revolution in media is needed. A new way to report and distribute current and reliable information is crucial to the protection of public knowledge and democracy. The key aspects to successfully redesigning media include engaging audiences of all ages and distributing easily accessible accurate facts. In order for news outlets to successfully reach followers, they need to gain the trust of the public by reporting on stories from all angles with unbiased facts. Vox Media, Buzzfeed, and Vice Media are innovative new media companies that aim to reach viewers through new methods such as informational Youtube videos with a focus on quality.

This issue is far from being resolved and the field of media has an opening for new innovation. While the aformentioned companies are working to recreate the concept of media, there are few companies that have successfully redesigned the approach that traditional media sources take to distrubuting knowledge. Although, progress and innovation in the quest to fight fake new has been more successful. ​According​ to a study done at Standford University, there has been a steady decline in the amount of fake news engagements on Facebook since 2018. If the spread of fake news can be controlled, there is a greater chance for the trust of young people to be regained.

Banner image courtesy of Nick Youngson via Alpha Stock Images, © [undated], some rights reserved.