Any person with common sense knows not to believe everything he/she reads. Even teenagers know to tell the difference between what is worth reading and click-bait articles. So, then why are fake news so much of an issue now more than ever? What has happened in 2017 to cause such a rising concern about fake news? Was there any event behind it? Is this something new or is it something we just now noticed? To answer these questions, we need to take a step back and look at things overall. Once we identify the game changing factors, we manage to understand the phenomenon a lot better.
When Did Fake News Become such an Issue?
Does the word propaganda mean anything to you?
Fake news is just that: fake news. But this is not the first time misinformation has been used in an attempt to get people to rally behind a cause. It has been done since the beginning of modern civilization. Why? Because it is more cost-effective to get people convinced of something and to get them to act on this belief, than it is to force and threaten them. Hope and personal beliefs are endless resources, whereas money, brute force and coercive policies have their limitations.
The first forms of propaganda and fake news date back to Ancient times. One of the best-known examples in this sense, something that even appeared mentioned in the famous novel Quo Vadis? by Henryk Sienkiewicz, was the lie spread throughout the Roman Empire that Christians used to engage in acts of cannibalism and incest. In fact, around the third century AD, both Christian as well as non-Christian writers were involved in a battle of lies about one another. The people would normally believe the information fed by the parties they belonged to.
In the 20th century, the best-known piece of Nazi fake news consisted in hiding the reality of concentration camps. Images of people dancing and laughing in the camp and the idea that it was only a work camp, as it said on the gate at Auschwitz: Arbeitmachtfrei(Work sets you free), kept people in the dark about what was really going on. Propaganda then took on and told the Germans a different story about the role they are supposed to play, how territories were conquered and what the army is doing in their name.
So why is there so much talk about fake news in 2017 suddenly?
The political campaign and the election of Donald Trump is one determining factor in this respect. The race itself was one emotional rollercoaster, with a lot of ups and downs, with so many skeletons released from all closets, and so many saucy details that it made watching House of Cards boring. However, as expected, some of these pieces of information proved to be fake. Even so, Donald Trump was elected and many people were shocked with the results.
What happened afterwards was an avalanche of news reports on all sorts of weird issues. Provided that Americans are used to sensational chasing reporters, who would misinterpret anything in order to get a good story, all of a sudden, president Trump has started calling out renowned news channels and accusing them of spreading fake news. CNN was one of the most prominent of all.
The most important accusation president Trump keeps shaking off as being fake news is that of having had ties and support from Russia in winning the elections. Everything of the nature has started being passed off as fake. The term caught new wind and has appeared on the lips of everyone.
When you start to notice fake news yourself
Make no mistake. Modern Internet users are still aware of the existence of bogus articles. These are what we call click-bait articles and they are easily recognizable. For starters, they are promoted by non-relevant websites that are desperately looking to make you click their links and get some traffic. Also, they begin with phrases such as “You would not believe…”, “What happened when…” or anything that will draw attention one way or another. These people will stoop to taking celebrity pictures off the Internet and passing them off as something else. However, these tabloid types of articles were easily identifiable and you just knew the information will not correspond with the title, it will be false or simply irrelevant.
But what do you do with the links that invade your social media? Articles from seemingly legit news platforms, with credible titles and good promotion? Another friend liked it, you read it in a hurry and you pass it on. This happens again and again, until fake news is spread. Without noticing, you have become part of the problem and you have contributed in spreading lies. Not to prove president Trump right on the Russia connection issue, but, in reality, the Internet is invaded by such links.
How to tell you are dealing with fake news
Those who are looking for a fast spread of fake news are relying on people’s habit when it comes to the Internet and the use of social platforms. By this we mean that they know exactly how people act when they are checking their profiles. If a link appears in their news feed, they will read it, react to it and pass it on. Especially in cases of the link being visible because another friend has reacted to it or shared it. The fact that another person in your list has seen it, does not make it legit.
If you were to look closely, you would see that the website the article is published on, does not have any other articles and that it serves as a landing page for the one article you are reading. Navigation is only possible back and forth. Another time-consuming task would mean going back and seeing where did your friend get the link from. Since this is not visible to you, you will simply overlook this step.
Check information from other sources as well. But keep in mind that at times, just as many resources are invested in keeping you misinformed. Are there any chances of you getting to other fake news websites? Yes. Isn’t this the job of journalists? Yes, it is. But you have to do it to make sure.
Fake news is such a big deal right now because the means of spreading information are much more accessible. With the click of a button, you have it all over the Internet in a matter of minutes. This beats by far having to buy a paper, one known for its professionalism, and believing the words and the research done by famous journalists. Now everybody writes, and everything can get published.