Battling Back Against the ‘Fake News’ Phenomenon

Battling Back Against the ‘Fake News’ Phenomenon

Battling Back Against the ‘Fake News’ Phenomenon banner

For most, social media serves as a personal outlet. For some, it is the cornerstone of business. For everyone, it is a constant presence of rapid-fire updates and information. When scrolling through your feeds, can you tell what is real and what is fake?

During a panel at the Johnson & Wales University Providence campus this month, students across disciplines gathered as three local news professionals shared their opinions on “fake news.”

Panelists included:

  • Ted Nesi, political and economic reporter at WPRI-12
  • Tara Granahan, host of a news talk program on WPRO
  • Pablo Rodriguez, MD, founder of Latino Public Radio

During the presentation, the panel discussed how they, as members of the media, work to combat “fake news” in their careers.

A Closer Look at Fake News
According to the BBC, the concept of fake news can be traced back to 2016, when a group of Macedonians began creating fake news stories during the U.S. presidential election and started promoting them on Facebook. Headlines like “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President” and “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide” went viral and created a social firestorm. People were angry. People were confused. People were completely mislead by a group of people who were more motivated by the money they earned driving traffic to their sites than how these lies impacted American democracy.

How Fake News Hurts Authentic Reporting
There are two obvious sources of fake news:

  • People who create factually inaccurate content on purpose
  • Journalists who make mistakes and inaccurately report the truth

According to Nesi, members of the media get a lot of backlash because people associate them with the false information pipeline. In this case, someone is altering information or editing video to show a specific side of a situation in order to push a certain agenda. Nesi said many people are quick to label the media—predominately cable news outlets—as biased, sensationalized, or downright wrong based on what they cover and how they cover it. “The term ‘the media’ is a term that I don’t love because it’s used very negatively and is not specific enough,” Nesi explained. “Media is a delivery system. It is getting the best obtainable version of the truth as we can and reporting it to the public.” He went on to explain that real journalists—professionals who are chasing down leads, vetting information, and getting as many angles as they can—would never doctor information or sway it in any direction.

The second version of fake news involves instances where journalists get the facts wrong. Sometimes, members of the public will use this as an opportunity to shout “fake news.” According to Nesi, it is up to the reporter to correct himself or herself as soon as possible to maintain their credibility. “We’re all human and we all make mistakes,” he said.

Even real, authentic events are clouded by the notion of fake news. For example, both Nesi and Dr. Rodriguez said they first thought the news of the recent Notre Dame fire was fake. Nesi, who said he gets a lot of his news from Twitter, saw an eyewitness video posted from the scene and immediately questioned whether it was real. After checking a few reputable sources, he concluded that it was.

According to Dr. Rodriguez, social media has made it easier for fake news to spread, complicating the jobs of journalists who are trying to report the facts. “We are all the media. As technology has improved, all means of production and accuracy are accessible to everyone,” he explained. “People with credibility [like celebrities and influencers] can push out inaccurate information and create rumors. We all want that ‘gotcha’ moment.”

Identifying False Information

So, how can you discern between what is real, what is incorrect, and what is blatantly fake? The key is to be informed. “It is on the individual to vet their news,” Granahan explained. “You need to see both sides and all of the layers of a story.”

Nesi agreed, noting that some articles posted online may not have gone through the same fact checking process that professional journalists go through. “Do the research. Read smart sources, especially if you have an interest in journalism,” he said.

If you’re a reporter, Dr. Rodriguez, who translates the news into Spanish for his listeners, said it is important to remain honest in order to keep your credibility. “I need to be trusted to translate accurately and show different points of view,” he explained. “People who lose credibility, lose it very quickly. You can lose it much faster than you can acquire it.”

The moral of the story? Each person—journalist or other—needs to be responsible for what they read, post, share, and take to be true.

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