We Can All Agree That Fake News Is Bad, But How “complicit” Are You in Its Spread?

The term "fake news," already embedded in the national psyche of this country, achieved global recognition when the UK-based Collins Dictionary declared it the Word of the Year for 2017, citing its “ubiquitous presence.”The masquerading of fake news as real, and assaults on real news as fake, threatens our democratic institutions, including that of a free press. This compounds problems abroad and creates tensions worldwide.Collins defines the term as “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.” President Trump uses it as a rhetorical device to discount an unfavorable story or distrusted news outlet or diminish the media at large.Others are following his lead: Trump surrogates, members of Congress, autocrats and dictators elsewhere now alleging fake news treatment, and political analysts who argue that unverified information that is “out there” gives them license to repeat it as fact.Fake news comes in different forms, ranging from total fabrication, to distortion of facts, to state-sponsored propaganda, to the spread of erroneous content on social media such as Facebook and Twitter.Trump repeatedly turns to Twitter to discredit the news media, tweeting about fake news 141 times from January through October, according to Fox News’ Chris Wallace. Americans disturbingly, are buying in. A politico poll recently found that 46 percent of voters actually believe major news organizations make up stories about Trump. This is troubling in the journalism universe. At least most major news organizations admit their mistakes. Still, we clearly we need to do more to regain reader trust. But readers and viewers also should find the spread of fake news troubling. Which brings us to another intriguing Word of the Year. Dictionary.com selected "complicit," noting the word’s new relevance in politics and social commentary. Dictionary.com says complicit means “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others; having partnership or involvement in wrongdoing.” Put simply, it means being, at some level, responsible for something . . . even if indirectly.Interest in the word spiked during 2017, including after Republican U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona announced his retirement, saying, "I will not be complicit or silent" about the current political climate and the tone of Trump's presidency. It emerged in conversations about alleged sexual misconduct by Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein and whether others knew of the behavior but failed to stop it.The connection between "complicit" and "fake news" is easily made. Americans have become complicit in accepting and sharing fake news. We all need to be smarter in recognizing deception.Some advice: Don’t trust everything a friend shares with you online. Be your own fact-checker. Share only stories you know to be true. Call out “friends” who send you unverified rubbish. Be willing to pay for journalism you trust.Our nation needs discerning readers and viewers - those who welcome honest journalism that holds leaders accountable and provides vital information for citizens to cast informed votes and contribute to decision-making. Nothing less than our democracy depends on it.What is fake news? Total fabrication. These stories on fake news sites are designed to drive web traffic and generate ad income. Advertising rewards clicks, and inflammatory news draws clicks. Distorted information. This includes clickbait headlines that don’t reflect the facts of the story, facts taken out of context and sensationalized. It’s not totally fake but not totally true, either. This content is often found on highly partisan, ideological websites that twist information to fit a philosophy or agenda. State-sponsored propaganda and misinformation. Freedom House has identified 30 governments that pay “keyboard armies” to promote propaganda online. Political leaders in Myanmar, Syria and Venezuela are emboldened to apply the fake news label to coverage they don't like. Countries where press freedom is restricted or threatened fight media scrutiny by calling it fake news. (See Russia, China, Turkey, Libya, Poland, Hungary, Thailand and Somalia.) The spread of erroneous stories on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter. Two-thirds of Americans (67 percent), get at least some news on social media, according to Pew research, with Facebook the No. 1 site. Facebook uses algorithms to provide users with news feeds, whether real or fake, that the users might like or agree with. The sheer size of the Facebook and Twitter audience (two billion and 330 million monthly active users) and lack of content verification make these two platforms scary in their capability to spread fake news or misinformation.What's your view?Got an opinion about this issue? Send a letter to the editor, and you just might get published.   Continue reading...

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