Since the election, there is a new war in town—the war on fake news. Social media outlets have gained center-stage attention as the mainstream media parades and ridicules Facebook, Twitter and other platforms for not taking a stand on fake news. This same fake news is now being blamed, by some, for swaying voters in a certain direction in this past election.
An example of one of these fake news story headlines read: “FBI AGENT SUSPECTED IN HILLARY EMAIL LEAKS FOUND DEAD IN APPARENT MURDER-SUICIDE.” This one, which appeared on Facebook, was supposedly reported by the Denver Guardian, a newspaper that doesn’t exist. One other fake news story claimed that Pope Francis backed Donald Trump as his candidate and another claimed Hillary Clinton was part of a children’s sex trafficking ring. And the stories keep coming.
These stories were actually believed by some, and here’s the thing—Facebook is not a news agency and never claimed to be. Yet, according to a Pew Research Center Survey, 66% (that’s two-thirds) of Facebook users, get their news from Facebook. Wow! And here is the scarier part—that’s 44% of the American population.
So here’s the thing. Facebook was created (after its expansion) as a social network for friends and family to get together and share photos, have conversations and connect. But, somewhere along the line among the countless photos of food and cat videos, came the meme, a simple photo with added text that turned into another way for people to make jokes, create parody and have fun on Facebook . During elections, memes became a prime way to ridicule political candidates or embrace your own candidate.
Fake photos of candidates saying things they never said were followed up by fake news stories set up to look and feel real. Sure, some of them were produced by people paid by unknown sources to sway voters, and these stories can be considered SPAM and should be removed as unwanted advertising. But, many fake stories are just created for fun by everyday Facebook users. This isn’t a new thing as it’s being happening for years and the problem isn’t that Facebook is allowing these fake news stories to be posted (because they are not a news agency), the problem is that 44% of Americans are getting their news from Facebook and a good percentage of them are believing what they are reading.
Though Facebook should not be a news source, the mainstream media has treated Facebook as a new source often quoting content and directed people to its pages. Sean Hannity of Fox News, for example, cited a fake news story claiming that President Obama deleted endorsements for Hillary Clinton on his Twitter account. Hannity later apologized for the false story.
If Facebook is a social media platform, then why are so many people confusing it with a news agency, including legitimate news agencies? And, if Facebook isn’t a news agency, why is it all of a sudden breaking its back to do something about fake news? Yep, it’s confusing.
There are a few reasons, in my opinion, why this has happened. First, people feel they no longer have a trustworthy place to get their news. After the fall of Jennings, Rather and Brokaw and the dawn of the Internet, impartial news reporting crumbled as well. News anchors now share their opinions and shows like The O’Reilly Factor and The Rachel Maddow Show have become more popular. Cable news networks have spent less time hiding their left-leaning or right-leaning agendas. This has never been more obvious than during this past election when we saw anchors such as CNN’s Anderson Cooper go to extreme lengths to discredit Donald Trump during the debate.
On top of that, we have situations like the one with NBC’s Brian Williams where he claimed a helicopter he was aboard in Iraq in 2003 came under fire. He later admitted that this was not true and was relieved of his job as anchor of their Nightly News broadcast. Recently, it was revealed that a local ABC news affiliate staged a crime scene for the cameras and, of course, we have the Sean Hannity situation I just mentioned on FOX. The bottom line is that anything goes for ratings and egos.
Secondly, major news outlets are finding themselves competing with something else more than ever—time. Internet news platforms care less about getting things correct and care more about getting things first and, unfortunately, this attitude has overflowed to network and cable news who refuse to be beaten out for breaking coverage by the likes of BuzzFeed, Mashable, Digg and others.
Furthermore, people these days don’t want to wait for credibility to be confirmed and, in fact, many Millennials feel 30 seconds is too long to wait for information.
So, people would rather take their chances on places like Facebook for their news because it’s instant, right there, mixed in with everything else, at their fingertips and they apparently believe Facebook to be just as trustworthy as the “biased,” “lying” news agencies people used to rely on. Touché.
Kevin McGuire is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles covering topics in news, politics, health and social media. You can read more of his articles at www.SocialMediaAtoZ.com.