“If your mother says she loves you, check it out,” has long been the admonition for journalism students. Unfortunately, as news consumers, we haven’t always done a good job of checking out our sources.
There’s a proliferation of fake news on the internet these days. If a friend posts it on Facebook, it must be true. Sometimes legitimate journalists are picking up stories and running with them before they check them out. Consider the Rolling Stone rape story or the countless Hillary Clinton conspiracy stories. Did Pope Francis really endorse Donald Trump?
“This was supposed to be the information age. Instead, we find ourselves in a swamp of disinformation, rumor, innuendo and fake news,” noted Jeffrey Herbst, president and CEO of Washington’s Newseum, in a recent op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.
Fake news is nothing new (think of the “yellow journalism” of the late 19th century), but it seemed to hit its stride in 2016. Online ad dollars are the big driver for the proliferation of fake news. More clicks equals more eyeballs.
Facebook, which millions of Americans depend on for their news (sigh), recently was criticized for allowing egregiously false stories to circulate during the presidential campaign. And sadly, during the final months before the election, top stories about the candidates on Facebook generated more engagement than those on The New York Times, Washington Post and other credible outlets. Last week, Facebook announced that it would begin fact-checking its news before publishing.
Does our enchantment with social media spell the end of traditional reporting? NPR reporter Steve Inskeep said, “History and experience tell me it's not a post-truth era: Facts have always been hard to separate from falsehoods, and political partisans have always made it harder. It's better to call this a post-trust era.” Check out the story, and some tips for vetting your media sources.
As a media consumer, it’s good to be skeptical. Don’t believe everything you read, but rest assured, your mom does love you.
Lisa Crutchfield, a former journalist, checks out a variety of news sources every morning while drinking way too much coffee.