Fake news has always existed. What is your greatest concern given it now often GAINS more ATTENTION than mainstream news reporting?
There are currently various issues I am concerned with regarding “fake news.”
The first is the ability of artificial intelligence along with paid ads on social media and click bait sites to generate “fake news,” oftentimes exploiting the points of anger and frustration of specific sectors of the population. The exponential nature of this kind of dissemination reinforces false notions, which become very difficult then to break down with real information. Consumers are then, in a way, spoiled by platforms that, even if falsely so, echo their convictions and therefore become less tolerant of truth they disagree with. I fear profoundly that facts are becoming irrelevant in the face of conviction reinforcing information. Truth is not as subjective as we are increasingly made to believe by our thought-leaders.
Another issue I have always been concerned with, but more so recently is the increasing demand for sensationalism, headline-inducing and shock value in our definition of relevancy. We as audiences are not only drawn further and further into consuming information we agree with, even when it is not true, but we are also lowering our interest and our threshold of tolerance for mid-spectrum or complex issues. That makes for an uninformed, simplistic populace that turns away from crucial events, while dedicating greater attention to incomplete, conspiracy-driven bits of information.
For instance, journalists fighting for an audience’s attention in this overwhelmingly flooded sphere often end up making a huge deal out of something that isn’t. This pattern is what I have observed on shows like Rachel Maddow. Love the show, but when she explodes the relevance of an event and nothing immediately follows, that erodes the audience’s trust in our power to hold our government and institutions accountable. We just turn away from the political process with a feeling of impotence. Others might argue that the opposite is true —
that the sensational and entertaining nature of news coverage further engages people who were otherwise uninterested in politics.
The lax accountability of cable news and online blogs in comparison to broadcast, due to the difference in each medium’s wealth of “airwaves” is another troubling reality.
“Fake news” is a term used to discredit inconvenient news. That, and the fact that we don’t have standard instrument of measuring a platform’s credibility via fact-checking, shoots us into a fantasy world of muddied communication where polarized worldviews are at war.
Inaccurate reporting happens to the most reputable reporters and news outlets. What is media doing differently to temper mistakes in the current misinformation crisis?
While true that technology helps spread falsehood, I think it also increases accountability for false statements. I know this sounds contradictory, but the fact that there are more people reading and sharing what you write and report on means that there are also more fact-checkers. If you are a fake news site, you might not care as much and just slap your critics with accusations.
For reputable sources, mistakes are critical, and therefore we spend more time fact-checking, running scripts through lawyers and cross-checking sources. Many institutions, especially after the Bush election, have implemented a right-over-first policy.
I also think mobile technology and social media have eroded the “magic of television.” Increasingly, news organizations are understanding the value of showing the strings and the process of putting a story together. What that means is they are also more comfortable with retractions and admissions of fault. More and more audiences seek and appreciate real people over the old school “voice of God” journalists. Social media has allowed for news to become more conversation than dictation.
How does our society regain an appreciation for facts?
Be truthful, admit your mistakes, show the process, vet yourself and reveal how you obtained the facts. A great example of this is a recent special on Vice News on the Paradise Papers. Instead of telling the audience what “they need to know,” Vice instead showed them the process of making sense of the leak by a community of journalists and what the findings mean to society.