By Eli Harvey ‘19
With the 2020 election coming into focus very soon, there is a big question hanging over everyone’s head: what is fake news, and how do I stay informed?
Fake News is a term that was made mainstream by President Donald Trump during his election campaign and his presidency. President Trump mostly uses the term to describe entire news companies like CNN or the New York Times. Public opinion on the reasonings for why he labels some things fake news and others not vary, however many believe that the President labels certain types of information “fake news”. This labeling has become one of the biggest contributors to distrust in the media, which is at an all time low. Although this is true now, fake news in the media is something that has been happening for a long time now.
Regis Jesuit’s journalism teacher, Adam Dawkins ’98 says, “[Distrust in the media has] been building for a long time, but it was [a] perfect storm of the broken business model and the amplification of social media to corner people into news ‘tribes’ that feed off of confirmation bias and misinformation.”
Dawkins says that perfect storm is still raging. “The prevalence of less than professional online content and the ability for [people with malicious intent] often take advantage of social media and internet audiences. [They use things] that confirm our own bias and drum up tribalism and ignorance,” he says.
This all came to a head at the 2016 election, with Donald Trump using the mob mentality method in his campaign rallies and on his social media to drum up even more distrust in major media outlets. But can those major outlets be considered fake news? It’s complicated.
The short answer is: No. They can’t. News companies like CNN and Fox News may have extreme bias to one side or the other, favoring either the right or left. They also skew statistics to make it seem like something should be a big deal or it shouldn’t, but at the end of the day, these companies are reporting on news, whether you like the news they report on or not.
Jamie Scatenato, the Girls Division librarian expands on this topic, saying, “Politicians like Trump openly state falsehoods about prominent news sources. Many Americans believe him and, even if they don’t, the statement shows uncertainty about the trustworthiness of these news sources.”
So sometimes, what politicians and some of those in the media call “fake news” is really bias.
The true fake news sites and stories are all coming from all over, but seem to be centralized in one area, poor cities in the Serbian/Russian area. These people create a fake site, pretending to be legitimate sources, in order to stir the pot and make an uproar.
The biggest actual fake news stories that people might remember from the 2016 election being the one where the pope endorses Donald Trump (which was proven not to be true) and one that said that an FBI agent that was suspected in Hillary’s email leaks was found dead in their apartment in a murder-suicide (which was proven to not be true as well). These stories, as well as others, allowed for people to feel like their views were represented, and they will use those stories to prove that what they think is right.
But it’s really up to the reader to fact check the work that they are consuming.
“How widely fake news articles are read and believed has a lot to do with a lack of media literacy,” Scatenato says, “It’s difficult and time consuming to investigate the source and author of an article, and many people do not have the tools or experience to do so. The internet has made it incredibly easy for anyone to publish his/her own opinions and, since fact-checking is nonexistent for independently published websites, there is no accountability from an editor/publisher to write the truth.”
Most of these fake news sites operate on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, using the extreme amount of user traffic to generate views and create more and more engagement with their articles. Because of the way both Facebook and Twitter is set up, it makes cracking down on these sites tough, and makes finding them very easy. With these two being the biggest carrier for fake news sites, as well as them popping up on google, how is it even possible to stay informed?
The best way to spot a site that might be fake is to see what type of stories they promote, and if they hold the same themes, as well as looking for by-lines, contacts and comments, and how often they link to reputable news sites. If it seems suspect, then find another source. “Knowing how to tell what’s real and what’s fake online is number one. Where is it coming from? What are the motivations? Who is quoted in the piece? Is there only a partial video that seems doctored? It’s up to us to get the whole story.”
“We need to be able to recognize bias and sift through [them because] they are always there.”
The best thing to do, always, is to look up facts for yourself. If something doesn’t sound right, or you just want to know more information, look it up. The best sources for stats and the like are almost always university sites and scientific articles, which explain things easily and provide clear cut data. Always look up multiple sources, and compare them to each other.
There are also some new tools to help diversify your intake of information. Check out Allsides.com, “The Sift” Newsletter online, and places like, Poynter News Insitute and the Colombia Journalism Review, which study media.
Fake news is something that is very real in our society today, and will continue to be a real problem as long as there is the internet. The best way to fight back is to recognize these sites, and stay informed of our own beliefs and biases.