I stated in my first post that the spreading of lies to gain an advantage is nothing new. This kind of strategy is something that has been used since people developed complex languages and lived in more complex societies. Fake news could easily be re-phrased as propaganda and shows us that the one who controls the information is ultimately the one who has it.
Why is it that the spreading of fake news to discredit another network or to push an agenda gaining so much attention? Some suggest that the invention of social media as one of the main causes, but it seems to be much more complex. Thinking social media has had the largest impact on the dissemination of fake news is a pretty good assumption. Although, this way of thinking explains how falsities can spread quickly, it doesn’t necessarily explain why.
“ Hillary Clinton’s inner circle includes child traffickers, pedophiles and now members of a sex cult.” This is an example of a headline that circled through facebook and used the famous hashtag “pizzagate” on twitter last year. The news caught on, making the claim that somehow Clinton was linked to a sex trafficking ring operating out of the Comet Ping-Pong pizzeria in Washington D.C. The story culminated in a shooting in which 28-year-old Edgar Maddison Welch fired three shots into the front door in an effort to “self-investigate”. This is just an extreme case of what the spread of fake news can do.
How did this happen? Why were people so compelled to share this post without checking to see if it were true through research and how was it that it was so easily believed by many?
Dr. Michael Shermer, author of “Why People Believe Weird Things” and professor at Chapman University points to Tribal Unity theory as an explanation. Shermer says that people are naturally social primates and must satisfy the need to belong to a group. We accomplish this by signaling to the rest of the group that we are trustworthy by agreeing with them. This wanting to belong enables us to be more than willing to spread the news that everyone else is sharing.
Another theory is the Cognitive Dissonance theory. This theory explains that everyone has central core beliefs that is essential to their individuality. Normally a person will seek and find people with similar beliefs, whether in public or on social media, and develop a sense of belonging with the group based on those essential beliefs.
When something challenges what a person believes to be true, they are less likely to adopt the news as fact even if the evidence proves the news to be factual. This scenario also applies to groups of friends who share the same system of beliefs on social media. Not only does this apply to fake news, but it also can effect real news.
This are just two examples of communication theory that point to our own instinctual behaviors as an indicator to why the spreading of fake news is on the rise. Definitely, social media has a huge impact on this phenomena as it gives more people a platform to share their thoughts, feelings and lives with anyone they choose. But, lying and manipulating people with lies has been done time and time again.
I feel that raising media literacy in our youth and those around us is essential in slowing down fake news’s impact and influence on our society. The importance of finding the truth in news is what the focus should be on. All news should be consumed equally with an inquisitive mind. In the same way we strive to give our bodies a well balanced diet, our news too, should be consumed in a well balanced way.
Things to do to identify FAKE NEWS:
Consider the source
Read beyond the headline.
Check the author.
Ask what’s the support?
Check the date.
Ask yourself if this some kind of joke?
Check your biases.
Consult the experts.