July 23, 2019 | 68° F

EDITORIAL: Readers need to get their facts straight

Circulation of fake news online leads to misled masses


Being a part of the digital age means constantly absorbing media you see online. Unfortunately for millennials who look to the Internet and social media for their news, this information is not always accurate.

This is the complaint that many Facebook users had after the presidential election. Many people felt as though the phenomenon of “fake news” — that was appearing all over social media outlets — helped push voters to either side by publicizing false perceptions of the candidates and their campaigns.

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, took notice of these complaints and went on the record to assert that while “over 99 percent of its content was authentic," he had already made it a priority to look into news stories that were circulating the site that were potentially fake. His main concern was that by monitoring posts too heavily, he would be seen as a gatekeeper. But even more, the concept of halting the circulation of anything on such a popular social media site is hard. In fact, even Zuckerberg himself, said that merely stating that certain news articles are false, is not enough to convince the masses who have seen a news story that appeals to their own basic viewpoints.

This was true of Eric Tucker. Tucker, a resident of Austin,Texas, took pictures of buses near an anti-Trump protest and posted them online. Assuming that the buses were shuttling paid protestors into the rally, Tucker took to Twitter to voice his concerns about the ingenuity of the protests. But Tucker's assumption ended up being incorrect. The buses and the people on it were not affiliated with the protests in anyway, but Tucker assumed that they were and even got 16,000 shares on Twitter and 350,000 shares on Facebook. A false accusation that was based upon a weak observation ended up being “news” to hundreds of thousands of people.

While Tucker’s experience was an unfortunate case of spreading misinformation, other times it is a matter of disinformation. This was the case during the election season. President-elect Donald Trump had claimed that fake protesters had been paid $3,500 to protest a Trump rally. This suggestion was  based off a news story that was circulating the Internet. However, the Washington Post looked into the story and found that it was yet another fake news story, created by Paul Horner. Horner, like many people, get paid to post fake news articles online. If this circulation of disinformation is so prevalent what do we do?

Thanks to college students like Anant Goel, Mark Craft and Nabanita De, we might not have to do anything. These three students created an algorithm to detect fake news stories. This algorithm uses tags and links in order to discern between stories that have credible sources and ones that have no basis at all. They hope that media platforms, just like Facebook, will eventually turn to third-party algorithms just as their own in order to discern the real from the fake. 

The problem with fake news is that it is on the Internet. The Web is a place where speed and convenience are the core values for everything. So when stories are questionable or more often than not completely fake, people are not going to fact-check or look into the sources. Especially in a time when trust in orthodox media platforms are at an all-time low, people look to the Internet for personalized news. In fact, nearly half of American adults use Facebook to get their news. Relying so heavily on a social media is dangerous and can lead to the circulation of false news. While it may be hard to believe that news like this can sway a national election, voters looked toward reputations of their candidates before they voted. But fake news isn’t just detrimental to elections, it’s detrimental to everyday life. Living based upon false ideas of what’s going around in the world can make you extremely disillusioned and disconnected, no matter how many social media websites you are on.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 148th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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