Fake News and Faker Boasts

In a Forbes article titled “Americans Believe They Can Detect Fake News. Studies Show They Can’t,” a Pew Research Center poll claims that 39 percent of Americans feel “very confidant” they can identify fake news, while 45 percent feel “somewhat confident.” But according to various other polls done, the percentage of Americans who mistake a fake news story for a real one creates a discrepancy between the statistics, ultimately proving that Americans aren’t as adept at filtering the fact from fiction.

In my research I’ve asked the opinions of a student and a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Heaven Silva, a sophomore at UIC, believes that with the rise of news coverage in social media like Facebook, more discussion and debate can take place on the accuracy or truth of a story in the “comments” section of public posts. In other words, through the advent of social media and public discussions, the filtering of fake news is as strong as it’s ever been, according to Silva. This type of open discussion couldn’t have taken place with a news story on TV, or in a newspaper, which are both more inclusive to the audience it’s supplying. Simultaneously, legacy news media asks for more trust in its journalists’ abilities to be unbiased and professional with the news they cover from their readers and subscribers. With Facebook and Twitter, users can openly discuss, fact-check, and share not only their opinions, but also links to more accurate news stories. Citizen journalism has become a filter to fake news stories, with a multitude of people who are free to call into question the accuracy of a story and poke holes in the narratives within.

Nonetheless, it appears that Americans still struggle to identify fake news and assess the accuracy of a story. According to an Ipsos poll done for Buzzfeed News, “75% of Americans who recognized a fake news story from the election still viewed the story as accurate.” Although this poll was namely concerned with the previous presidential election, it might speak for the American people’s ability to recognize fake news in general, particularly when it comes to important political events.

One of the underlying issues with getting news from social media could be the idea of “echo chambers,” which is a term that relates to the subtle technology that tailors your news feed according to your views and the posts and people you “like” and follow. In other words, the technology behind what Facebook decides to put on your news feed is the thing responsible for emphasizing your biased views, while increasingly cutting away the people and posts that would oppose your beliefs and opinions, even if they are just as accurate or even more so in their telling of an event.

Where the student and professor opinions differed was when it came to the issue of just how dire of a problem fake news is. Silva seemed to think that the issue is more urgent in today’s day, especially when it comes to the current political climate. On the other end of the spectrum, Professor James Drown of UIC seemed to think that the issue isn’t such an “alarming” one. Professor Drown further said that fake news certainly isn’t a new problem either. However, both interviewees agreed that fake news is still a negative product of today’s news organizations, with the professor arguing that it happens more often, now with the web and social media allowing people to bypass editors and fact checkers altogether.

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