Fake news are not only the made-up news stories propagating misinformation. A real news based on distorted facts or quoting comments out of context can be as dangerous as a fake news as it may mislead the consumers as alike. Another form of fake news is propaganda that different groups and governments use as frequently as it has evolved into a science and a field of study.
Fake news is not a new phenomenon. It has been there since the birth of modern journalism. In fact it has its roots far beyond and has been used as a tactic to inflict harm to ones’ rivals since pre-journalism era.
In past fake news can be blamed at lack of resources and communications if a mal-intention and ignorance were not behind it. However, today when the resources are abundant, communications is much easier and facts can easily be verified, malafied intentions and ignorance remain the only reasons one would generate or spread the fake news.
Though the newsrooms in mainstream media outlets are now better equipped and aware of how to avoid and control fake news than they were a century ago, the phenomenon of fake news is growing. A major source of these fake news is internet.
The popularity and accessibility of internet has created a parallel media industry online in last decade where thousands of news and blog sites furiously compete each other and with the established, big media outlets for visitors and revenue day and night.
These digital news providers often lack resources to generate original content and so depend on the reproduction of other’s journalism. Thus they are more vulnerable to propagate fake news than the mainstream media.
But the question is whether the fake news can be stopped completely and if not, how to make people aware of it and convince them to avoid it?
Let’s talk about the first question. We cannot expect fake news to be eliminated completely from the face of the earth. The internet is a vast world without a regulatory authority. Anybody can post anything which makes it difficult to verify every claim being made and every incident being reported. So as long as internet is there, fake news will keep haunting us.
But fake-news phenomenon and its effects are not limited to the internet. Even if a fake news appears on a relatively unknown online platform but reaches to a significant number of people it harms the whole media industry as consumers start suspecting the news based on truth and reality and reported by credible news organizations. So with every fake news mistrust on news media grows.
A recent survey shows that only 32 percent people trust news media in the U.S. This survey was conducted in September 2016 when the campaign for U.S. Presidential Election was in full swing in which fake news was a major issue. And unluckily we now have a President who openly calls national media ‘dishonest’ and ‘biased’ and declared every item as ‘fake news’ with which he doesn’t agree. This phenomenon is more dangerous than the fake news itself as it may turn all the real news into fake news for the people who admire and support the President and believe in what he believes.
So the only remaining option is to educate people about the fake news. But this task is almost as much difficult as the first one.
In a Pew Research Center’s survey, conducted in December 2016, 23% Americans said they have ever shared a made-up news story, with 14% saying they shared a story they knew was fake at the time. It proves that people may spread the false knowledge, even if they know it’s not correct, if it supplements their beliefs and ideology.
We know that most followers of religions are emotionally attached to their beliefs. Religions promote and demand deep loyalty and trust of their followers and discourage half-heartedness. Questioning about basic beliefs and practices are often discouraged among religious communities. This emotional attachment to their religions makes people more vulnerable to fall prey to fake news. And if they do they can inflict more harm to their peers or to the society than any other group because of their emotional attachment to the subject.
Another lesson learnt from U.S. Presidential Election is as much as a society will be polarized and divided, it will consume more fake news. The presidential election and the over-charged election campaign have left American society divided as never before. And at the same time the issue of fake news has become a major concern and a subject of debate. To minimize the influence of fake news on masses and to limit its outreach American leaders and intelligentsia should struggle to overcome this polarization among liberals and conservative forces, both politically and socially.