Writer: Teresa Madaleno
Fake News might seem like just another voguish term, but its unlikely to slip from the North American vocabulary any time soon. The problem is that thanks to people like Donald Trump using the term inaccurately, there are a lot of people who don’t really understand the term.
Fake news is not the practice of well-trained, well-educated, competent journalists. Sure, at times things can fall apart in any news organization to the point where an editor or reporter exaggerates or leans too far to one side (left or right). While I would never condone this, it can’t be labeled as fake news. Fake news is the shift that has occurred in our social media era and it’s due to the dizzying speed of tweeting, posting etc. online.
As a former broadcast news reporter and journalism teacher, I can tell you that the majority of trained reporters take the golden rules of quality journalism very seriously. Those rules include being objective, focusing on the facts (just the facts), and using multiple, accurate sources to back up those facts. Fake news is the opposite – it is falsehoods, lies, subjective, and not backed up by any credible sources.
The problem with fake news according to psychologists is that the human mind only has so much time to process the myriad of information coming in and then make judgments about what parts of that information to keep. Humor, shock, and the unusual – all of these tip the scales in favor of being remembered and recalled, whether it is real or fake.
Here is where I find it scary. Fake news can be extremely damaging to all aspects of life. I have a daughter who is about to turn 20. She has grown up in the digital era. I think of her friends, as well as my nieces and nephews attaining and processing news. What they need to know is that fake news can hurt them. If they were to ask how? This is what I would share with them. Suppose someone said you were responsible for another person’s death and this was untrue. Can you imagine how this would impact your reputation, your career and your personal life? It has happened. A known trash magazine alleged that American Senator Tom Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. When Donald Trump talked about this allegation, the story spread like wildfire. There was no stopping it. The Washington Post and other reputable news agencies launched an investigation and determined that these allegations were “untrue” but the damage to Cruz was already done.
There are many other examples where fake news can negatively impact you financially, emotionally and physically. There have been a number of fake news cases that have led to civil unrest. Your purchasing of goods and services and your decisions about investing can have a devastating impact on your wallet when based on fake news.
Scientific studies show that when only 10 percent of the population holds a strong belief, the majority of society will always adopt this belief.
This is not meant to insult anyone, but the truth is that people are victims of their own ignorance, unwilling to fact check what they hear and read. Many will argue that they don’t have time to fact check and this may be true. Guess what? That is what we have trained journalists for. Unless we start speaking up to save real news organizations, your generation will have one of two choices: spend all your time fact checking so you can decide what to believe and repeat to others or live in a world where you make very bad, very damaging decisions about your life based on fake news.