When a fake news story is taken as fact, it does the public no justice

Earlier today, a fake news story was posted on our website, just to see what would happen (We’ve since removed it).  It didn’t take long, for one of our local readers to call us out on it, but, our readers are pretty savvy.  In the hour that it was on the website, it garnered hundreds of reads.  The information on our website is available on Google and other search engines within moments of posting it, and, the number of readers nationwide reading the article was indeed interesting.

Of course, the story was utterly absurd.  There is no way it could have been true, not to mention that a search for the most outrageous article that could be found took less than a few minutes.  The story, about a woman who was raped, then, denied an abortion without a waiting period, supposedly gave herself an abortion with an AR-15 assault rifle.  Unbelievable, right? 

The fact of the matter being, many people will accept what is on a news website as fact.  They read it, share it, and have an unwavering opinion on the topic.  This happens all too often.  Whether it’s a news story, or a meme with quotes by some famous person, it’s all too often taken for fact without any research by readers.  

While KTTN Radio does indeed do our best to provide our readers with factual information, there are many websites that know the more outrageous the story is, the more readers it will attract, so, the more money they will make on advertising on the website.  The days of Walter Cronkite, who reported the CBS Evening News for almost two decades, apparently are gone.

“Rather than acting as a source of accurate information, online media frequently promote misinformation in an attempt to drive traffic and social engagement,” said the study led by Craig Silverman, a research fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University.

While news organizations have always dealt with unverified information, practices at some websites may accelerate the dissemination of fake news, said the report, “Lies, Damn Lies and Viral Content.”

“Many news sites apply little or no basic verification to the claims they pass on. Instead, they rely on linking out to other media reports, which themselves often only cite other media reports as well,” the study concluded.

Fake stories are often sexier or more interesting than the real ones, and as such get wider dissemination, Silverman said.

Many news organizations fail to follow up when a false report is debunked, the report said: “The explosive claim that ISIS fighters had been apprehended at the US-Mexico border was refuted within 24 hours and yet only 20 percent of news organizations that wrote an initial story came back to it.”

Because of the fast-moving nature of Twitter and other social media, Adair said that “many people including journalists feel that if it’s tweeted, it’s out there and it’s fair game. But news organizations have always had an obligation to check out what they pass on.”

Sometimes the sheer number of repetitions of false information makes people believe something is true, the researchers said.

One example of this is the oft-repeated claim that the Obamacare health plan includes “death panels” which decide whether a person can receive treatment.

“Anyone who repeated it — even when trying to debunk it — further implanted it and its negative connotations in people’s minds,” the report said.

So, the next time you’re not sure about a story, or the headline in front of you, do a bit of research.  It usually takes less than five minutes to debunk as to whether a story is true or not.  That also goes for memes, which seem to be the worst offenders.