With our current political and cultural climate, fake news is all the rage. It is the hot topic nowadays, so much so, that National Conference dedicated a panel discussion about navigating fake news. Moderator John Carrol asked the hard questions and got the conversation started with three panelists, David Dahl, Tom Fiedler, and Kelley Chunn.
Let’s start out with some basic facts. Fake news is not new! Herodotus, the father of history, was also known as the father of lies. History class taught you all about Paul Revere, but Israel Bissell was the true night rider. Fake news has been a phenomenon since the beginning of news. However, now fake news is proliferating society and becoming the forefront of our problems. 52% of Americans think that traditional news outlets regularly post fake news. How did this happen? The 2016 Presidential election brought the idea of fake news back into society as a big issue. In this election, there were two types of news: stories fabricated to make money and stories fabricated to help a political agenda. The panel investigated all sides of fake news and how to navigate it. Here it is broken down by each panelist.
Dahl started off his part of the panel by making the audience think. We need to ask why fake news is gaining momentum. This is important. To be a good journalist or PR professional, we cannot just accept things. We must understand them. The issue of fake news is accelerating due to citizen journalism. Citizens becoming journalists is so easy with the amount of technology available to us. This has allowed everyone to get published easily. Everyone has a recording device in their pocket at all times. While this is beneficial in some cases, the news is now competing with everyone. There is an unlimited amount of competition. Who would you believe? A major news corporation making money, or an everyday citizen fighting for, and believing in, the same things as you? All in all, in any media profession facts matter. I’ll repeat it: facts matter! With the abundantly prominent fake news, it is just a part of any communications job to deal with it and realize that the goal is to get the truth to the public.
Fiedler says that the reason that fake news is making its way around the world is because the media ecosystem has changed. There used to be minimal news sources you could go to, and they were trusted gatekeepers. Now there are so many sources, including social media and citizen journalism, the public does not know where to go or who to trust. This is why in the 2016 election, people trusted Donald Trump instead of the news media. Citizen journalism lowered the ethos and the need for these media gatekeepers. This next statistic shocked the crowd- today 28% of Americans trust the news. In 1977, it was 77% of Americans. It is easy to live our life in a filter bubble. That’s why it is so easy to point fingers at fake news. We do not like our beliefs to be challenged. We selectively listen to what we know and what we want to be true. In order to stop fake news from being believed, we, as an audience, need to be active listeners and media literate. To end on a comical note, Benjamin Franklin once said, “The internet is the death of truth.” While laughs started to echo, it is important to realize this is very accurate. You need to do research and fact check everything. A person’s belief system will trump their intellectual system, that’s just how the brain works. As media consumers, it is important to understand this.
Chunn first started off with some lifelong advice, accuracy matters, be accurate. If you cannot say something is 110% accurate, do not say it. As a pro, if you are not a trusted source by your audience and other media, you will not get your message across. Always think of your target audience. Having an audience helps you pick through that filtered bubble. It is easy to get through to an audience who knows you, likes you, and trusts you. When trying to reach out to another audience, align yourself or your campaign with a trusted source in that audience. You will be able to resonate more and connect. To Chunn, media literacy means being a critical thinker. You cannot rely on one source. It is important to always ask who is the source, and what do they have to gain from you reading their news.
Caroll, while the moderator, got in on this debate himself. In fact, he had us try a little experiment I’d like you to try to go sit with someone you don’t know that well and google the same exact term. Are the search results different? Yes. The internet gives back what you have already told it. The internet can analyze your frequented websites and likes to create an algorithm for your search results. Just like the internet, people go to cable news for confirmation of what they already know and believe. It is our job to be aware of this, and search for a variety of opinions to get a well-rounded view of the news.
Well, that’s it for the Fake News panel. In this, there were many tips and tricks to become media literate and watch out for fake news. It is important to keep an eye out and know where your news comes from. Good luck out there in fighting the fake news!