Reflections Regarding Outburst Over Fake News Stories on Social Media

By Joseph Horch
Technology & Innovation Writer

Like most people I get some of my news from social media. In fact according to a recent Pew Research Center poll as many as 62 percent of Americans get some news from social media. Of that 62 percent, 18 percent say they do “often”.

However some of the those news stories could have been fake. There are mounting concerns that fake news outlets could have influenced the election during the last few weeks of the cycle. Some of these unvetted stories even appeared under Facebook’s trending topics section. The information found within these articles was either misleading or completely false.

A recent Buzzfeed analysis found that top-performing fake stories performed better on Facebook during the run-up to the election than accurate stories being shared by traditional media sites.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the Techonomy16 conference that the notion that fake news could have influenced the presidential election results was “extremely unlikely hoaxes (which) changed the outcome of this election in one direction or the other.”

This statement contrasts the one made by President Obama at a press conference on November 17:

“In an age where there’s so much active misinformation and it’s packaged very well and it looks the same when you see it on a Facebook page or you turn on your television,” he said, “if everything seems to be the same and no distinctions are made, then we won’t know what to protect.”

On a separate occasion President Obama told The New Yorker editor David Remnick, “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal — that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.”

Jeff Jarvis, a professor of Journalism as the CUNY Graduate School, said that “Misinformation from many sources, certainly had an impact on this election.”

Facebook announced that to combat these fake news sites the company will ban fake news websites from generating advertising revenue, often times the main reason such sites exist.

Sophomore Diplomacy student Prescott Lieberg said that, “It is concerning that a percentage of what I see on Facebook could be fake. But then again, you cannot believe everything you see on the internet”.

I also spoke to a number of people at my internship at CNBC, a business news network. They expressed a lot of the same concerns but stressed that people have to constantly question what they are reading. The general consensus among the crowd was, if it is not a major news organization be skeptical of the information reported. It is important for people to question what they read.

My personal advice, stop using social media for news. Instead, sign up for a free daily newsletter from respected news organizations.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, November 22nd print edition.

Contact Joseph at
joseph.horch@student.shu.edu

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Stillman Exchange publication, The Stillman School of Business, or Seton Hall University

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