Many in in America have become familiar with the term “fake news” in recent years. Whether it’s being shouted by President Donald Trump against the “liberal media establishment” or by liberal or progressives towards conservative media organizations, it has become the theme of a nonstop series of accusations.
More than ever, America is polarizing itself along regional, economic, and ideological lines. The middle ground of bipartisanship and common ground is disappearing rapidly. People on both sides, caught in the polarization surrounding them, have become more divided than ever in recent times over basic facts. This has lead to a dangerously increasing rejection of the opinions and concerns of the opposite side, which has been at the very center of the issue of “fake news”.
The President has only added fuel to the flames, calling out any facts he disproves of as “fake” and denouncing them to all of his allies and supporters. Yet these actions and their reciprocations of “fake news” on both sides of the political aisle is detracting from another significant problem in America, actual fake news.
“House Oversight Chair Jason Chaffetz received $10 million from Russian agents!” “The Pope endorses Donald Trump for President!” “Mitch McConnell helped Trump cover up his Russia collusion!”
In the last year, stories like these have captured public attention and received hundreds of thousands and even sometimes millions of likes and shares. They have been distributed throughout social media, and made their way into the hearts and minds of millions upon millions of American citizens. The problem is, they are fake.
They are not the kind that the President is quick to decry, however. The targets of cries of “fake news” are all comprised of a particular view or point of view on a subject. As polarized and partisan as they may be, they are not created with the intention of lying to people and deceiving them. Actual fake news is.
Fake news stories like the ones above were written with the author’s knowing that they were complete fabrications and lies, yet chose to release them anyways. During the 2016 Presidential Election, this type of fake news has been dispersed and distributed around the country at a pace never before seen. The advantages of the easy communication tools provided by social media companies such as Snapchat, Facebook, and others have made this process easier and far more potentially deadly. These stories targeted every subject the health of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to the state of their friends and family.
While there has been evidence that many of these stories were created and distributed by agents of the Russian government in 2016, the vast majority were created with a different objective: profit.
It is very easy to make money from writing fake stories. In a Wall Street Journal article written at the end of 2016, a fake news blogger named Paul Horner describes how he made $10,000 a month during the year by writing fake stories. Various reports have found that hundreds of Macedonian teenagers operating on facebook made millions of dollars off of gullible Americans by writing fake content and posting it online.
Even after the ending of the 2016 Presidential Election, fake news has only continued to grow in America. Republicans are being targeted with stories supporting President Trump and revealing the “failures” and “lies” of liberals the Democratic party. Similarly, liberals are being targeted with stories primarily revolving around the President, the scandals with Russian involvement last year and possible obstruction of justice.
Multiple reports from survey organizations and universities have shown that nearly a third of adults are susceptible to such stories and in some surveys more than 50% of kids can’t either. “Fake news” is a problem born from a polarizing political climate and the disappearance of middle grounds. Fake news is far more dangerous because it is targeting the intellect of people and praying on many’s closed minded beliefs and attitudes.
“Fake news” is an issue that will test the very spirit of our nation to remain together, but fake news need not be so. Everybody can agree that the industry of creation fake information and spreading it to make money is not something in anybody’s best interests.
Social media companies have already begun to take some limited action against fake news on their platforms, but to eliminate it will require a much greater effort. People must be made aware of the dangers it poses both to society and the general information sharing as a whole.
This is an industry that is built in deception and deceit, and I hope that Americans, no matter what they believed politically, would like to see it taken down.