The danger of fake news and the risk of stopping it

After the U.S. election and Donald Trump becoming President-elect, fake news and where it’s harbored came into discussion. Fact-checking and general distrust in established news sources rose during a turbulent and most unusual campaign season, creating a perfect storm for fake click-bait news to grab hold of the American populous.

While it’s difficult to prove, some people believe fake news, and its role in social media has a part to play in this year’s presidential election.

“I absolutely believe so. I’m not one to click on click-baits and sketchy headlines, but the people that I’m friends with on Facebook seem to think otherwise. One friend would keep sharing stories that were way too skeptical to even read. As a person going into journalism, that’s the scariest part about news,” Mizelle Mayo, UAA journalism student said. “You’ve got all these people you need to get real information out to, but social media lately has been bombarded by fake news stories. Because of that, you’ve got a misinformed audience. Let’s be honest, most people like scandalous news. Evidently, these fake articles have created a dangerous workspace for everyone.”

Others are skeptical of the role fake news had in the election, focusing on the Facebook algorithm showing Americans content they want.

“I don’t think it has had an impact. On much of the internet, namely social media platforms such as Facebook or YouTube, the content you see comes via an algorithm that’s designed to bring the user content they like. So, if the algorithm believes you like Donald Trump, it will put forth content that agrees with you and similarly for Hillary,” Levi Betz, Anchorage resident and former UAF student said.

Many individuals think Americans had their mind made up before click-bait articles could influence them.

Photo credit: Jian Bautista

“I don’t know if fake news affected the election. Things were so polarized and people already had their candidates picked early on, so I think fake news just confirmed biases that already existed,” Abby Slater, a UAA journalism student said.

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Websites like Google and Facebook are currently looking at ways to combat the surge of fake news. Google is banning fake news sites from the use of their advertising services. How they are determining fake news sites from real news sites is unclear.

“I strongly disagree with Google’s suspension. I realize that Google is not a government entity and can, therefore, limit whatever they like, however, I think it sets a very dangerous precedent. Google, and also I can’t remember if this has been confirmed but there was also talk of Facebook implementing similar systems, is a massively popular and ubiquitous service and thus this system gives them a lot of power over communications. I realize that in theory this only limits misinformation, but how is it determined that something is ‘misinformation?'” Betz said. “I can easily see the power being used to censor by simply claiming something is misleading or untrue. Even if it is, there would be a litigation process necessary to re-implement the ad.”

While this may seem dangerous to some, the possibility of fake news leaking through social media sets a more dangerous precedent for others.

“I think that Facebook and Google deciding to monitor things is a great achievement. People don’t fall prey to fake news because they are stupid, they fall prey because there is simply too much information going out into the internet for any one person to be able to perfectly filter it out,” Slater said. “The fact that these hugely popular websites are agreeing to step in and help out is awesome, in my opinion.”

In the wake of the presidential election and Brexit, it is important to always check the legitimacy of online stories and articles. Sensationalism sells, but the truth is what matters in the end.