We’re approaching a year since the U.S. presidential election was tallied and the results – which named Donald Trump as our 45th president – have been recorded as part of our government’s history. But the talk about “fake news” – widespread misinformation posing as legitimate news on the internet – and its influence on readers, both during the presidential election and long after, has continued steadily since that time.
In what seems to be an everyday occurrence, headlines speak about the influence of Russia and perhaps other entities may have had on the presidential election. The accusations include pushing out volumes of fake news on the internet in an attempt to influence voters. Also, under scrutiny here at home, is the role our own media, especially social media, may have played in the elections. Just last week, the New York Times published an article, “The Frightful Five Want to Rule Entertainment. They Are Hitting Limits.,” about Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, coming to power and their “vast social and political power over much of the world beyond tech.” The “limits” mentioned in the headline, are, at this point, very few, according to columnist Farhad Manjoo.
As a trained journalist and former newspaper editor, I am deeply disturbed by what I see as a troubled state of communication. I believe strong action to rein in the ill-intending sources and their false information must be taken, so that the truth may prevail.
But until that happens, being aware of the fake news epidemic is half the battle. Beyond that, here are four tips to help identify fake news.
* Consider the source. Research the “news” organization that is publishing the information to determine if it is a legitimate news group. Hint: abc.co is NOT a legitimate news organization.
* Read articles beyond the headlines. Evidence that an article is fake often surfaces if you read it in its entirety.
* Research the author. Do an internet search of the author and his/her credentials.
* Consult the experts. FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, the Washington Post Fact Checker and PolitiFact.com, for example, get paid to check facts. It’s likely at least one has already fact-checked the latest viral claim to pop up in your news feed.
Be assured that at least some movement to positively affect communication is happening at this time, hopefully with much more to come. For example, a network of independent fact checkers recently signed an open letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg suggesting that Facebook “start an open conversation on the principles that could underpin a more accurate news ecosystem on its News Feed.” I, along with these petitioning organizations, hope that conversation occurs, but news readers themselves remain the first line of defense against fake news.
As communication professionals, our ethical standards must include going above and beyond the troubling issues that surround us and make every effort to disseminate only true and accurate statements about ourselves and the clients we represent. What do you see as your role, and PR’s role as a whole, in supporting – even leading – this effort?