The Myth of Fake News and Alternative Facts

By Patrick Barron, Opinion Writer

Why do we continue to fall vulnerable to these headlines? I will try to break down the “fake news” controversy, which plays on the minds of countless citizens in our country.

The meaning of fake news appears intuitive; news accounts that are false. However, it has evolved over the years. For example, in the political realm, “fake news” is a tactic used to discredit opponents; if it flies against your agenda, it is fake news. While no one political party is immune from trying to play the game, real life consequences result from it as it hinders people’s ability to obtain the truth.

What are “alternative facts”? Kellyanne Conway, former campaign manager for Donald Trump’s successful presidential run, and now his Special Counselor, spoke those now infamous words. In an interview with “Meet the Press,” she used those words to defend the false claims made by both the President and the White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer regarding the inauguration crowd size. For one thing, I never heard those two words being linked together and thankfully, I am not alone.

According to Google Trends, searches for “alternative facts” were nonexistent in the United States in the previous five years before Conway’s interview. Subsequently, it became a popular search term for the next several days, as numerous people tried to figure out what it meant.

Even so, this is a much bigger issue than politics or any one country. Those who believe they are being lied to, when what is actually happening is they simply disagree with the reports they hear, are automatically using the term “fake news.”

While one has the right to be skeptical, this type of skepticism is detrimental as it limits our understanding of our different beliefs.

Sure, there is fake news on the Internet, but we should be able to tell it apart from the reputable information. Ignoring the facts is wrong and it leads to ignorant opinions, but sadly, it seems as if people become readily susceptible to fake news.

Furthermore, a study conducted by the Ipsos Public Affairs and BuzzFeed News back in December revealed alarming statistics. BuzzFeed News reports, “Fake election headlines about the elections fooled American adults about 75% of the time.”

So what should we do about this problem? First, having a skeptical mind is not the issue, but questioning indisputable facts is the real problem. Second, realize that in the Information Age, fake news exists and it tries to grab your attention and alter your mind. Do your part and do not spread misinformation with Facebook News; instead, call out the story for what it is – fake. Third, everyone could use a course on fake news, how to spot it and what to do about it. Fourth, remember if we work together, we can severely lessen the amount of fake news we may encounter.

The Russian communist revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin once said, “A lie often enough becomes the truth”. How terrifying! I do not like living in a post-truth society and neither should you.

Lies divide people and limit conversations. In order to understand our differences and try to come to a solution, we need more dialogue, not less.

In addition, playing the fake news card is sure to rile up a political party and/or their passionate supporters. Earlier this month, President Donald Trump said in a Twitter post, “Any negative polls are fake news…sorry, people want border security and extreme vetting.” The president was responding to a CNN poll which revealed that 53 percent of Americans disapprove of the way he is handling his job. If you cannot understand what is problematic with that statement, then I am at a loss for words.

Although fake news will continue to exist, because those who seek it will find sources, we can lessen the extent of it. Politics aside, let us become united against fake news, which Tim Cook, CEO of Apple says is “killing people’s minds.” I know you are tired of hearing it too.

                                      

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, February 21st print edition.

Contact Patrick at

patrick.barron@student.shu.edu

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