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Is fake news replacing real news?

Wed, Nov 23rd 2016 03:00 pm
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College students are dismayed by fake news on social media.

Fake news is being spread throughout social media

By Sarah Rance and Ava Mrozik

In today's world, it is said the younger generation gets its news almost completely from social media, especially Facebook, rather than actual news sites.

But can they trust it?

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of the popular social media site Facebook, created his site at a young age. At the time, he probably wasn't planning to make editorial judgments. Perhaps that's why, today, some of the news that reaches Facebook is fabricated and false.

In 2016, Facebook users have been viewing such so-called news stories. Fake news sites construct stories with false information that's made to look like real news to engage readers.

For example, Facebook users were falsely told:

•An FBI agent linked to Hillary Clinton's email leakage was found dead in what seemed to be a murder-suicide.

•Bill Clinton raped a 13-year-old girl

•Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi told supporters of President-elect Donald Trump to "take their business elsewhere."

In fact, the latter of those fabrications caused some Trump fans to boycott PepsiCo products.

During the 2016 presidential election, it is believed fake news stories on Facebook were viewed more than real, factual news, which could've impacted the results of the election.

Zuckerberg, in an interview with Vox, denied that this is an issue, and claimed there's more to someone's vote than seeing fake news on Facebook.

However, if younger people receive most of their news from Facebook, what makes Zuckerberg think the fabricated stories of the candidates didn't have an impact on the way the younger voters voted?

Mark Barner, Ph.D., chair of the communication studies department and associate professor at Niagara University, warns of "buyer beware" when it comes to receiving news from Facebook.

"They (fake news writers) are always one step ahead of the public, so people just have to take everything with the proverbial grain of salt," he said.

The fake news problem facing Facebook has caused many people to think that actions should be taken by the social media company to stop this fake news, or at least make it more identifiable.

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Kathryn Liotta, a freshman education major at Niagara University, recalled a moment when her parents discovered fake news.

"My mom asked my dad and I, 'Did you guys hear Will Smith died?' And my dad responded that it couldn't be true, because it wasn't on the news," Liotta said. "She told us, 'No, it's true, I saw an article on Facebook about it.' I just laughed, because you can't trust articles on Facebook. But my mom didn't even realize fake news was a thing until I told her about it."

Liotta went on to explain fake news is an issue, because it makes it difficult to believe any news stories, due to the fact that it is so hard to tell what is true and what is not. If no measures are taken to stop fake news from reaching audiences, people will not know what to trust.

While Zuckerberg was slow to make efforts to stop these fake news stories, an anonymous group of his workers took action. Members stated in an anonymous interview with Buzzfeed that Zuckerberg's dismissal of the idea fake news could have impacted the election is crazy. The group has met in secret so far, to assure members won't lose their jobs.

Theresa Hahn, Ph.D., a scientist at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, said, "I refuse to join Facebook! Everything about it is fake."

Hahn said she wants nothing to do with the site, because of fake news accounts disguised as real news sources.

For Facebook users, the worst part is not knowing they're reading fake news until they learn the truth from more reliable news sources.

Should Facebook require news accounts to provide their sources? Should people boycott Facebook? Would that even help? Should Facebook stop promoting news stories and, if so, how?

A Washington Post article looked at college students finding ways to fix this issue.

During a "hackathon" at Princeton University, the students developed an algorithm that proves what is real versus what is fake on Facebook.

This Chrome browser extension would be useful, as Facebook users do not typically have the time or even think of searching on Google to verify something they just read on Facebook.

This is why fake stories are so common: People running the fake news accounts know their stories could sound reasonable, and therefore users will be less likely to verify.

Doug Tewksbury, Ph.D., an associate professor of communication studies at Niagara University, said, "Facebook is good at bringing news stories to you, but it's easy for it to become tunnel vision."

Tewksbury also noted a major issue is that Facebook delivers news that individual viewers will personally relate to: "Democracy, or any civil society, requires a healthy marketplace of ideas, where people encounter viewpoints and opinions other than their own, and, through discourse, make decisions about truth, policy, how things should be, and the good life and such."

The biggest issue with this, according to Tewksbury, is that, when fake news gets out to users, the majority of them do not look at the content with any skepticism. Rather, they just absorb the words and accept the message.

"The solution is media literacy. Fake stories will always have an incentive to exist, and if individuals don't know how to critically analyze information, they will continue to work," Tewksbury said.

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