On Dec. 20th, 2016, Forbes magazine published an online article stating that Americans could not detect fake news as well as they thought. As a matter of fact, 21st century news consumers are getting worse at detecting fake news to an extent that it brings about real consequences to real people.
To be considered as “news literate,” one should understand the genuine definition of fake news or at least have their own several definitions. Generally, fake news articles consist entirely of intentionally fabricated stories that are misleading for readers. However, from a political point of view, fake news can sometimes be considered as news that does not mesh with one’s own political biases or leaning.
Fake news articles are undoubtedly toxic when it comes to political campaigns. One of the highlights of the year 2016 was the story of Edgar Welch, who believed that Hillary Clinton was running a satanic child sex-ring in a restaurant’s basement. He came to the restaurant armed with guns and a view to rescue the children, only to realize the restaurant does not even have a basement. Several media outlets then quickly found out that the claim started at a Facebook post and went viral through Twitter. It took researchers of approximately 7 months to finalize that the identities behind this post were mostly associates of the Trump campaign. Welch failed to prove there was any captive child, but he did prove that fake news can have real consequences when it comes to blind news consumers.
One of the most dominant social media platforms that serve as an unofficial news source is Twitter. The perks of being able to grab convenient, fast, and instant news have gained Twitter a good standing in the competition against other platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram. However, a drawback of Twitter is that such instant news flashes can become fake news as things will change through time. Instant pieces of news on Twitter are usually provided by citizens, who happen to witness the situation going on without knowing the context behind it. Thus, news on Twitter might be inaccurate in some occasions. Thus, this fact makes Twitter an unsafe news source.
For instance, on January 17th, 2019, there was an incident between a group of students from Covington Catholic high school and the Black Hebrew Israelite people. Being put in the spotlight was Nicholas Sandmann, who was believed to have been mocking a Native American activist – Nathan Phillips. The video of this encounter went viral at the moment it was uploaded on Twitter. The students were then accused of racism and hatred against the four Black Hebrew Israelites. After several hours, more detailed footage was released. In the video, the students were initially verbally harassed by the Black Hebrew Israelites religious organization. Phillips was the person to stand in-between the students and the Black Hebrew Israelites and sing the song of unity as he faced Sandmann. Although the incident was officially settled by mainstream news articles, it still put Sandmann, a 16-year-old boy, in an unpleasant position when the public’s criticism was still pointing against him and his gesture towards Phillips in the video.
This situation portrays the fact that there might be a bigger picture being missed behind a piece of video on Twitter that happens to go viral. In this case, specifically, Twitter users and the news consumers immediately jumped right to conclusion after seeing the first release of the video without doing fact check. This problem, in the long run, can be used to manipulate crowds and cause more conflict between communities
“People have judged me based off one expression” – Sandmann told Savannah Guthrie, the NBC’s “Today” co-host, in an interview three days after the incident, “They’ve gone from there to titling me and labeling me as a racist person, someone that’s disrespectful to adults—which, they’ve had to assume so many things to get there without consulting anyone that can give them the opposite story.”
Detecting fake news has never been an easy task, even to knowledgeable scholars. Try as they might, the mainstream news producers could not fully stop the spread of fake news. Thus, it heavily depends on news consumers to protect themselves from the consequences lurking behind fake news articles.