October 17, 2017
Two weeks ago, some of us might have googled “Las Vegas shooting” to find out what was going on after 59 people were killed at a country music festival.
What some of us may not have realized is that Google was promoting actual fake news. And no, this does not mean an article from the New York Times, the Washington Post or NBC News.
Due to its algorithms, Google promoted articles from fringe sites like 4Chan and the Gateway Pundit that incorrectly identified the gunman, labelling him an anti-left, anti-Trump activist.
This was blatantly false.
Yet Google still promoted the misinformation on its homepage when you searched for information on the shooting. Not only does this make an innocent person a victim, but it spreads rampant misinformation to those who were actually affected by the shooting.
What many students may not realize is that certain news “outlets” have a platform to spread agenda. These platforms do not follow the same ethical guidelines as major news outlets do. We have to be careful of the type of media we consume and not take all of it at face value.
According to a 2016 by the Pew Research Center, 23 percent of Americans have shared a fake news story, whether they knew it or not. Two in three adults also say that fabricated news stories cause them confusion in regards to what the facts actually are.
This over-abundance of false news stories does have real consequences.
Our modern political climate is saturated with accusations of falsified information, and it can influence our government. It has been shown by many sources, including a study by Stanford University, that the spreading of fake news over social media had a noticeable effect on the 2016 Presidential election.
It is also true that we as individuals pick and choose our news sources because we agree with them.
This selection bias is motivated by our beliefs, and while that is not inherently wrong, getting your news exclusively from a super-biased source is not good for the social discourse.
But how can we tell what’s fake, and what’s real? We have to start with ethics.
An article is not unethical just because you dislike its content. What makes an article unethical, from a journalist’s point of view, is if it places an opinion in amidst factual reporting.
We call this editorializing, and news organizations that do this can unintentionally (or intentionally) spin a story to be in their favor. Opinions should be saved for editorials (like this one) and opinion pieces – not news reports.
But opinion does not mean journalists do not cover topics that are negative; some stories just are, and it’s our job to uncover the truth without an agenda. If we dislike a topic that we cover, we have to leave that bias at the door to do a good job at reporting.
If you see a statement that sounds like it could be the reporter’s own personal opinion and it is not corroborated by any other source or data, then have some skepticism about what that message may be. When in doubt, do your own investigating and check a few other credible sources before fully committing yourself to that idea.
Some other key points to look for when reading overly biased news is the use of definitives. For example, words such as “always” and “never” should immediately flash some red flags. Hardly anything is life is definitive, so it’s difficult to be accurate in reporting when you use these generalizations.
Above all, be serious and check your source. Twitter, Tumblr and BuzzFeed are not known for their accurate and ethical news reporting. If you wouldn’t use this site as a source in your college essay, then don’t trust it or use it to backup your opinions.
We’re surrounded by media on a daily basis, whether it is a funny tweet, a new broadcast, an article or a Facebook post. Watch out for the fakes, and remember to think twice about the news that’s being promoted to you.