This election season was nothing short of exhausting. Whether you’re saddened by the outcome, optimistic about the future, or as confused as I am, all of us can probably agree on one thing: thank God it’s over.
So many strange things came to light during this election. It was one of the first elections during the age of social media, and given the rapid progression of the presence of social media in not only the lives of millennials, but the older generation as well, this election was unlike any past election, even the most recent between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
The rapid integration of our social media into our daily (or, admittedly, momentary) lives has completely changed the way the American public receives news. How many times have you read a headline of an article on Facebook without actually clicking on it to read it in its entirety, yet consider yourself informed about the topic? How many times have you read a tweet and regarded it as the truth? How many posts have you read by people whose opinions you haven’t vetted yet let them shape your own? How many times has my dad read a headline by the Onion and thought it was true without knowing what the Onion is? The answer to all of these? Probably many times.
When people begin to distrust the major outlets available, it stands to reason that smaller, indie-esque publications would be the place we’d turn to. Perhaps a smaller publication doesn’t have a dog in the political fight, and just wants to present the news! Perhaps that average Joe who tweeted that story you read has no ulterior motive and IS well-informed! This is a good thought, and I’m sure those types of outlets do exist (maybe…), and well-informed average citizens are out there. Realistically, though, it’s unlikely. Social media has given any average, misinformed, overly-opinionated individual without a moment’s experience in journalism or political reporting to have a massive, impressionable audience.
Okay, so what IS fake news? Fake News, though it’s been around since the beginning of news reporting, is a phenomenon that has been exponentially more problematic and present since the massive emergence of social media. It comes in two major forms. One is propagated by companies who want to drive traffic to themselves to make money from advertising or sales, and thus publish hoaxes, false information and propaganda bound to draw in an interested audience ( similar concept to clickbait). The second form is simply ill-informed social media users who unknowingly post something false that gains viral-level traction. Soon, their untrue tweet or post has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people. In the age of the internet, it can take less than a day, and voila! Fake news. And it spreads like wildfire. Don’t believe me? Remember THE DRESS? You know which one. That cursed blue and black one (yeah, I saw blue and black, and don’t want to hear about it if you saw white and gold). How quickly did every single person you know hear about that? See?
Alright, so fake news is out there. What can you do about it?
Well, first of all, don’t post fake news, that’s pretty easy. If you’re going to post something on the Internet, do us all a favor and just double check. If you Google an article your friend posted from DonaldTrumpLuvr.Blogspot.com to double check it’s facts and it doesn’t come up anywhere else, perhaps deduce that this information is false. If you read something interesting but realize it was published by FeministsVoteForHillaryOrElse.Blogspot.com, then understand that perhaps there’s some spin on that story. Read between the lines, check your sources, and don’t read headlines and consider yourself informed. Read the articles. Find a credible news source you like. Better yet, find a few. Compare the information. Form opinions based on facts, not on the backs of overly-opinionated Middle-Americans who have nothing better to do than write a hard-leaning blog based little in fact and mostly on their own bizarre biases.
Fake news only gets traction because people allow it to. If more of us were vigilant in checking information before reacting with outrage or elation, then these bizarre mistruths would never gain legs. Our internet and social-media driven society is completely to blame for the emergence of Fake News on a scale upon which it has never been seen before, and we are the only ones who can prevent it from continuing. Whether you’re thrilled about our new president or wildly disappointed, we can all agree: we want to know the truth about what’s happening.