Fake news

Noor Naji , Asst. Opinion Editor

Many have suggested that Donald Trump’s rise in the political spectrum and victory in the 2016 election was directly due to the publication of fake news, which has circulated everywhere throughout the campaign and since. The dangers of misinformation are real, and authorities should take action now.

Fact checkers, since the beginning of the campaign, have been working to distinguish between articles that are accurate from those that aren’t and have tried to stop the articles from being published, as they present multiple dangers. However, it’s not as easy it seems. Fake news is hard to differentiate as sometimes an article can have a mixture of both false and true facts, lying in a gray area with no reliable assumption to make. Fact checkers are trying to work, but desperately need third party support, like Facebook, to also work with them.  

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, responded to this issue by saying that “less than one percent” of stories on Facebook are fake. Though this may be true, the amount of articles published isn’t the issue–it’s the amount of potential shares on a single article, causing it to go viral, that has a dangerous effect. According to the Pew Research Center, about 66 percent of adults get their news from Facebook, which is about 660 million Facebook users, all of whom could have encountered at least one fake news article. Considering the number of people influenced by Facebook, it is no surprise that fake news had such an effect on the 2016 election.

However, Zuckerberg later claimed that he would be willing to work with fact checkers and take necessary “measures” to fight fake news.

Thirty-eight  percent of Republican leaning pages were found to be completely false and 19 percent of Democratic leaning pages were also found to be false. Addicting Info, a site leaning left, and Freedom Daily, leaning on the right, both have viral articles on Facebook and both have been found to have inaccurate and false information in their articles. These two websites, like Anderson Cooper 360’s page, have over a million followers on Facebook, which suggests that the people reading fake news are almost equivalent to the amount of people who read real news, as sometimes it is hard to make the distinction between a legitimate news site and a fake one.

Moreover, the spread of these articles would have not been as big if the people reading haven’t heard something similar somewhere before, like for example, their candidate. President-Elect Donald Trump is possibly the first major candidate to legitimize fake news, and to help with the spread of fake news as seen, for example, by his accusation that Ted Cruz’s father was associated with the JFK assassination or his recent unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.

Although people who write fake news are technically covered under the First Amendment, there are other ways to stop fake news besides punishing the writers themselves. Sites that publish these articles can help prevent their circulation or at least reduce it. Social media organizations such as Facebook, should be recognized as normal media organizations. They should be held to the same accountability as newspapers and other media outlets for the misinformation that spreads on their websites, as they do profit from articles published. Moreover, such organizations should take action in the fight of preventing fake news from spreading.

Google plans to penalize websites that publish fake news by restricting their ads on sites. And such measures should be taken by others. The dangers and risks are simply too high to ignore.