Fake news and its implications for the media

 

Social media has more influence on our lives than ever before thanks in part to continuous technological advancements.

 

A great many people often find themselves flicking through social platforms to brush up on current affairs and events while on the go, at work, or anytime of the day. As a society, we absorb an incredible amount of information by simply scrolling, flicking, clicking and swiping on our mobiles and tablets.

 

Unfortunately, misleading information, or ‘fake news’ as it’s more commonly known, has infiltrated users’ news streams for some years now, making it harder to distinguish what is a genuine, credible piece of news and what has been fabricated by those who wish to spread misinformation for propaganda or other malicious purposes.

 

As Deputy Chairman of the London Press Club, we have to recognise the modern-era shift of people gaining access to their news through technological mediums, as opposed to traditional methods such as newspapers, TV and radio. These old-fashioned platforms have to abide by regulatory bodies and self-regulation to that ensure all reported content is credible, something which fake news can bypass if uploaded directly to social media.

 

But what is fake news and how can we spot it?

 

In all honesty, we probably see fake news regularly without even knowing. Some can come in the form of a poor mock-up, while others can look so realistic that we often think it’s from a genuine source. But the question is, what is fake news? The Oxford Dictionary says ‘Fake News’ is a neologism often used to refer to fabricated news. This type of news, found in traditional news, social media or fake news websites, has no basis in fact, but is presented as being factually accurate.’

 

There are those that confuse opinion, exaggeration or interpretation of fact with fake news; it isn’t… fake news is a lie.

 

My old, now deceased, friend Dennis Griffiths was Production Director at the London Evening Standard, when in July 1969 the first moon landing happened. Days before, he had organised what turned out to be a very realistic mock-up of what the moon landing would look like in a film studio, in London. The image ended up being splashed on the front page of the Standard and in the tiniest print it said it was a mock-up. It looked great on the news stand! There was some flack and although I can’t remember specifically now, I’m sure the word ‘fake’ was used. That is not what it means today.

 

The build-up to the US election in 2016 is a prime example of fake news circulating the media and our social feeds, with hundreds of false news stories such as the famous ‘Pope endorses Trump’ article, popping up to help sway political advantage for candidates.

 

The problem traditional and accountable sources of news face is not getting unwittingly caught up in promoting fake news. I was listening to BBC Radio 4 when news broke that the Labour Party was going to support a second Referendum on Brexit and Evan Davis said he was reading it on Twitter, and it wasn’t confirmed. There turned out to be truth in the tweet, but there were caveats it didn’t mention.

 

During the US Elections social platforms such as Facebook came under heavy criticism for allowing these fabricated ‘press releases’ to enter our feeds so frequently and easily.

 

Since then, however, some effort has been made by these social behemoths to restrict the amount of fake news finding their way into our news feeds. Facebook, for example, enlisted the International Fact Checking Network to enable users to flag articles they think are deliberately false, which then go to third-party fact checkers from credible media organisations signed up with the IFCN.

 

Other ways in which false news can be combatted is by tweaking algorithms to reduce the amount of ‘juicy’, yet fake stories entering our social feeds, while just being generally aware and astute to what appears to be suspicious material is another effective tool for stamping the problem out.

 

But how can you tell what’s fact from fiction?

 

As the old cliché goes, never judge a book by its cover. Always consider the source before you interact with the story, whether that be sharing, commenting, forwarding on etc.

 

Obviously, you can’t do this with every piece of news you come across, but if something pops up that doesn’t feel right; it probably isn’t. Listen to your intuition.

 

With a simple online search, you can investigate the source of the story, check whether the author is credible and explore if there’s any supporting sources to back the presented information up.

 

The London Press Club recently hosted a discussion, “Can quality journalism survive in a world of fake news and social media?”

 

For my money the participants, all experienced, were living dangerously with their reasons for believing that it would. It was almost as if it had a divine right to survive. It bought to mind Margaret Thatcher’s comment about peace in the 1980s. “Peace is hard work and we mustn’t allow people to forget it. It doesn’t come from chanting the word like some mystical incantation.” This is also true with honest, quality journalism.

 

The Cairncross Review said, “The digital transition has undermined the provision of public-interest journalism.

 

“As print revenues have collapsed faster than online revenues have grown, many publishers have cut costs, with significant consequences for the provision of public-interest journalism.

 

“However, the fact remains that we are likely to see a further decline in the size of the UK’s news publishing sector – in journalists and in titles.

 

Ultimately, the biggest challenge facing the sustainability of high-quality journalism, and the press, may be the same as that which is affecting many areas of life: the digital revolution means that people have more claims on their attention than ever before.

 

Moreover, the stories people want to read may not always be the ones that they ought to read in order to ensure that a democracy can hold its public servants properly to account. “

 

Overall, fake news is clearly detrimental to what we perceive as fact or fiction when news gathering/browsing online. It also impacts media organisations as we become warier of what is considered genuine news or fabricated material with a malicious agenda.

 

Through a better understanding of the legitimacy of a news source, whether that be via media literacy training or using software that incorporates technology to make it more sceptical, we can begin to counteract the problem that is filling our news feeds with tribal and polarised content.

 

By David Selves

 

About the author

 

David Selves is a business advisor at The Selves Group. He has enjoyed an eventful 50-year career as a seasoned broadcaster, entrepreneur, publican and hotelier. Making his name in business hospitality by purchasing struggling hotels and turning them into award-winning venues, David has built a reputation as a respected and highly regarded businessman. He was also the former Regional Chairman and National Board Member of the Small Business Bureau.

 

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