The Fake News phenomenon – driven by largely controversial stories looking to generate clicks and ad revenue off shock value, and political campaigns promoting propaganda on their opponents – has been making headlines more and more recently, because of its supposed effect on the elections and the actions it has caused certain people to take. A 2013 Pew Report found that 47% of Facebook users got their news from Facebook, and today that number was found to be 66%. Overall, polls indicate that 62% of American adults access their news on one of several social media platforms. As people lose faith in traditional media and television usage continues to plunge, and people become more involved in their phones and social media this trend is only likely to grow. Before you address how to deal with fake news being spread on these platforms, one must assess the overall affect social media has had, and can potentially have on news.
First, it should be noted six corporations own the major news networks, so they have a vested interest in discrediting any other upcoming sources, whether they are fake or not to maintain their control of the market and stifle competition. Much of the general population has been lost faith in mainstream news, so they are looking elsewhere for their information, and when they find it many tend to share it on Facebook and other social media platforms. This has allowed the rise of several online news networks based on YouTube, such as Vice News and The Young Turks, and it has also allowed many independent news sites to flourish such as Wikinews, AlterNet and The Real News. Congress is now considering passing legislation to address the fake news phenomenon, however what cannot be forgotten is the need for an open market in news. Because of the advertising possibilities they offer, television news networks all take money from the politicians during campaign season, and want access to them for interviews, so many people are under the impression those news networks only offer a watered-down version of current events that those politicians want you to report on, a version that paints them in a positive light.
Mainstream news networks also take money in the form of advertisement revenue from the corporations they are supposed to be watching all year – for example, Verizon has commercials on most of the major news networks, and they stand to profit a huge amount if Net Neutrality laws are passed in their favor. Verizon, and other internet providers, would like to charge the owner of any given website for the data needed for users to access the website. It could lead to a complete overall of the internet, and it would give internet providers the power to decide what websites work and what don’t. The cable news networks themselves also stand to benefit from net neutrality laws erecting additional barriers to entry for potential competitors into their dying news market – i.e. if smaller independent news networks must pay an exorbitant amount of money for readers and viewers to access their articles and stories, it is likely to prevent many others from entering the market, stifling the free market and giving the distinct advantage to the better-established news networks with ample money to spend paying internet providers. Knowing this, I would personally be hesitant to trust mainstream news bringing me up to date, accurate information on the net neutrality debate, I would personally appreciate the option to access other independent news sources on this, many other topics to get the most unbiased assessment of current events pertaining to the issue. I also enjoy sharing these news sources with my friends on Facebook and other social media platforms.
Net neutrality is just an example of why it’s so important to have a free market when it comes to news and journalism, there are many other issues facing humanity and America that the corporations that fund the major news networks would appreciate a favorable spin on – if the government passes legislation to limit what news can or cannot be shared on Facebook, and what is considered fake news or not, my question would be who decides what is real news? Would it be the mainstream media that since they are for profit corporations would not want competition, and many people feel are biased and have misled them in the past? Would it be the politicians who have a vested interest in keeping out negative stories about their actions? Or would it be the huge corporations that also have a vested interested in limiting negative headlines about them? More than likely, since those corporations are the major source of funds for both the politicians and established news sources, whether indirectly or directly they would likely be the ones calling the shots on what news sources should or shouldn’t be approved. That could lead to the under-reporting oil spills, the misrepresentation of what banks are doing to the economy, and even misleading reports on new drugs developed and introduced by pharmaceutical companies. It is not likely this would all happen on day one, but starting down the path of banning unapproved news articles and news sources could begin a slippery slope of the complete loss of a free market in the press – the effects of which, in my opinion, could be devastating.
Needless to say, fake news is still an issue that should be addressed, and if left unchecked will likely spiral more and more out of control. Ideally, people should double check outlandish claims they see from unrecognized sources, however not everyone has time to do that and often people merely read headlines and accept it as fact. In my opinion, a perfect solution will never be reached as there are many people that believe everything they hear and do not have the ability to recognize when they are being misled, however in my opinion raising awareness about the existence of fake news will help encourage people to research a little deeper and double check the stories they read (especially ones making controversial, extreme claims) from multiple sources before accepting them as fact. A system could be developed by the different social media platforms to indicate links from websites that are trusted (possibly an automatic mark on posts from trusted sources), so people can post any news stories they like, but in addition mainstream news, independent news outlets have an opportunity to become a verified, trusted source. This keeps the free market open to potential competitors while informing viewers which sources are considered trusted by traditional standards, but it would also warn people that when they see an outlandish headline and crazy story, if it’s not from a verified source they may want to double check it.