Fake News Week: It’s Time for Change

This week and – quite ironically – shown to us through news broadcasts, comedy panel shows and online journalism, the topic of ‘fake news’ has hit our devices and social media streams with a vengeance.

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Fake news isn’t an entirely new concept, either, as Alex Brooker pointed out on last night’s comedy panel show The Last Leg, saying that he misses the “golden days” where you could nip to the local newsagent and buy “The Sunday Sport”, comically saying it was “a treat” knowing that you were prepared to read hysterical and fictitious stories.  Now the problem is that fake news is “too mainstream”. It’s everywhere. Which makes it harder to decipher the facts from the fabricated.  When it comes to the truth, we as the British public just simply don’t know what to believe so we sweep them all with the same brush. Better to believe none of it than all of it. But you can see how this is problematic in the news industry that does seek to report truth, and ignoring this is detrimental to our planet and the human race.

Look at Donald Trump, for instance, possibly the only manifestation of a human-hybrid embodying fake news as a product of our millennial, fake-reality TV, modern and social media obsessed world: reincarnated into the body of a wotsit-monster. In fact, he’s such a caricature that even South Park are struggling to satire him. Nevertheless, his belief that global warming and climate change is simply a myth and a hoax, catastrophically disregarding the earth’s wellbeing, is taking so many steps back that he may as well believe the earth is flat and America is the only continent that inhabits it. Yet the most alarming fact remains – that people actually believe him.

Moreover, our confidence in the news is rapidly deteriorating, and unfortunately, the most reliable and trustworthy sources are the ones that are suffering from it, as Channel 4’s Jon Snow explored this week. He calls for an industry-wide effort to regain public trust, and essentially to educate its readers and watchers alike. After all, when you consider the complex web of the United States’s fake news channels (Fox and CNN) that cover their tracks with the oxymoronic “alternative facts”, it’s no wonder that Donald Trump convinced a nation into his presidency. His paradoxical criticisms of CNN for unfavourable coverage of his presidential campaign left him branding them as fake news until declaring war against the media, despite his strong reliance on outlets such as twitter to document and announce official policies which basically won him the election. Yet his surprisingly left and liberal take on the proliferation of fake news is disconcerting to believe. The debate on filter bubbles suggest he has an ulterior motive to censor any media outlet that speaks out against him, which is therefore detrimental to public knowledge. This is especially enlightening once you consider that fake news massively helped Trump’s campagin: false stories provided damning ‘evidence’ that Hilary Clinton was tied to a child sex ring, fuelling a lot of rightwing activism in Trump’s favour. 

However, this fake news epidemic is not partial to the US alone, and it’s spreading into the UK through social media which has left some people blaming it for the outcome of the EU referendum. As provided by a Yougov survey, it seemed to suggest that the gap between broadcast television watchers and those who relied on social media could not be wider; with respondents that stated Facebook were their primary source, 71% believed at least one of the fake stories were true, whereas only 47% who get their news from television broadcasts thought this. However, as demonstrated by the voting results of Brexit, it was mostly the millennials and young voters who opposed the referendum, whereas the ‘baby-boomers’ and much older people, were more likely to support it. There is a correlation here as well between the variety of sources that both sides are exposed to. Older people are much more likely to watch television or read newspapers that echo their point of view, which ultimately limits them from alternative scopes. Not to mention that news reporting channels such as the BBC and Channel 4 often take a stance of neutrality and non-bias from objective journalism, whereas social media provides a platform for informative debate with a wide range of sources: video clips, a multitude of newspaper articles and online exclusives. Not to mention ‘opinion’ columns. As discovered by David Hallin in his study on the Vietnam war in the 1960s, those who relied on television as their news source were more “sceptical” and “cynical” of its neutral-based reports. It is interesting to document the shift, as I would argue that people tend to me more sceptical towards news as a whole, rather than their media platforms. Yet it is without a doubt that the rise of social media, while often broadening our news content, can also hinder it massively.

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As Snow reported ominously, “the biggest thing is awareness in how the world is shifting. Within the internet there are wonderful things and very dark things. We have to be aware and in our awareness develop some strategies. This is the most important period in our commitment to public broadcasting we have ever been in.” This is a public outcry. It’s time for change and censorship of fabricated and fictional news stories.

What is even more concerning about fake news, is that it somehow infiltrates into our mainstream news representatives. This only stresses the urgency that journalists ought to check their sources more thoroughly than they ever have done before. This was highlighted this week by the BBC’s interview with Jeremy Corbyn in which BBC breakfast speculated over rumours about Corbyn’s secret resignation. Corbyn replied “I’m surprised the BBC is reporting fake news”, alluding that the resignation rumours resided from “Imadeitupyesterday.com”.

However,  a marginally good turnout came from Wikipedia this week, in which it claimed it will no longer accept the Daily Mail as a reliable source for its content. An eye-opening red flag to its readers, you would hope, although Wikipedia itself isn’t entirely an accurate representation of the truth either.  After all, we’re often told not to 100% trust its sources, but its step away from the Daily Mail is an unveiling comment within itself.

Also this week, ‘Confessions of the Paparazzi’ on channel 4 followed a pap-king, George Bamby, who staged photographs and fabricated stories for celebrity magazines. It was certainly staggering to witness the extent of his forgery. The photographer gave presenter and columnist Judy Finnigan from This Morning and the Richard and Judy chat-show a bottle of wine as a seemingly innocent gift, only to hide and publish photographs the following morning that depicted her as an alcoholic. This falsification is detrimental to people’s lives and integrity as honest working citizens. The shameless pap himself urged his watchers to “stop buying celebrity magazines”, and I hope this bid will hit its intended target audience like a fly being swatted by a rolled up paper: straight to the head.

This, of course, is not to mention the rise of underground and secret news alternatives that take the form of conspiracy theorists, seeking to inform the public of the “truth” that’s swept under the rug. On one hand, pages such as Wikileaks and the hacktivists of Anonymous have provided enormous coverage of things that have been kept out of the public eye, yet they have also been accused of scaremongering and exaggerating or stretching the truth to provide the public with enough info to basically transcend us into a revolutionary upheaval of the established government. Whispers of the illuminati are still in tact, derived from an 18th century hidden movement that sought enlightenment and secretly took control of our government officials to make them dance as puppets to the public eye. The conspiracy goes that the illuminati control everything, our banks, our government, and everything we know, as if we live in the Matrix. But the problem is that this unreliable source of information is often spread through youtube videos from estranged teenage cults who claim to find ‘evidence’ that the illuminati is still going on. And their videos are very convincing, too, especially when we are at the heart of a fake news crisis. People will believe what they want to. If illuminati explains our woes in the world, then so be it. But the problem is that they distract us from the real world. Hiding behind this paradoxical problem, conspiracy theorists seek to expose the truth which quite often the public can’t handle. It inspires a degenerate attitude whereby people ‘give up’ with politics, give up with news, and give up hearing the truth because it’s so difficult to prove what the truth really is. Supposedly the illuminati control and initially established our global empire: the Vatican City, NATO, the UN, and all our global media outlets to fabricate the entire thing in their favour. While we, the sacrificial lambs and proletariats of George Orwell’s 1984, are none the wiser as we go about our everyday lives.  It’s no surprise then that people really believe the illuminati is at large, especially since our own trustworthy news agencies are falling short of their reliability which in itself only makes the problem worse.

Tim Cook, the head of Apple has commented that these kind of reports, with things such as clickbait headlines, are “killing people’s minds.” Continuing in the Guardian that, “all of us technology companies need to create some tools that help diminish the volume of fake news. We must try to squeeze this without stepping on freedom of speech and of the press, but we must also help the reader. Too many of us are just in the ‘complain’ category right now and haven’t figured out what to do.”

Arguably, clickbait headlines are also a form of fake news since their misleading titles are often read as the punchline before the entire article has been read through. Nevertheless, fake news is not an entirely new concept but is growing at an alarming rate and it’s time that people woke up and checked their sources of information. Don’t limit yourself to TV broadcasts since channels are often accused of taking subtly biased stances, but similarly don’t limit yourself to Facebook sources such as memes and ‘echo chambers’ of Facebook groups. “The world is a book”, so the saying goes, and if you read only one page, you will become a product of whatever that page is sculpting you to be.

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