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The fake news phenomenon

I have been a part of mainstream media, in one way or another, for more than half my life. Writing and journalism is just part of who I am and it gives me, what I believe, is a good perspective on how the news gets churned out and how to utilize it properly. Recently mainstream media has been put through the ringer in terms of viability versus online counterparts, in terms of breadth of scope and in terms of bias.

But here’s the thing – comparing mainstream media to the “new media” of bloggers and vloggers and etc is like comparing apples to oranges. I don’t think it’s fair to put together a square peg and a round peg and then complain about how different they are. They are different from the start. It’s not as if they came from the same beginnings and branched out from there – motivation-wise they are different from the get-go.

Personally I believe that media – in all forms – is all about good content development, or basically good storytelling. There were stories that needed to be told in the world and people looked for avenues that told these stories. Simple and innocent enough. But of course the way that people get those “stories” or that news, as it were, has continuously evolved over time. Nothing stays the same and people opt for choices that are easy and accessible.

I truly believe, and I say this from my own unique perspective, that a true journalist will try to give you the best accounting of the truth as much as he or she can without biases and without frills. That is what journalism means to me – telling the truth. I believe that no matter what you say or how you say it the truth will always come out in the end anyway, so it’s better to start with the truth from the very beginning. Besides, the era of journalism I grew up in came with strict penalties and punishments for journalists who deviated from the truth.

Fast forward to 2017 though and the truth has become a very fuzzy blurry line. These days the battle no longer seems to be about the best type of news platform but rather truth versus fiction. Everyone seems wary of all forms of media, and rightfully so, because “fake news” is rampant and everyone has fallen victim to some form of fake news at one time or another.

Obviously, as a journalist from another time, I find this incredibly sad. It’s not to say that we’ve never made mistakes. I’m sure everyone has – we’re all only human. But fake news today doesn’t seem to be about mistakes or misunderstandings but literally as a ploy to deceive people and condition them to think a certain way. News is no longer used a tool to inform but rather as a means to spread misinformation, direct a narrative and influence as many people as possible into a certain way of thinking.

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At least that’s what it seems like to me. Perhaps it’s because of the way news travels these days. A story can go from one end of the spectrum to the other at the speed of light. This makes it that much harder to really sift through all the facts, verify reports, and ensure that what you’re saying, or what you’re reading, is 100% truth. A lot of news outlets – particularly online – are in a rush to break a story first and will therefore move to hit “Publish” sometimes before being able to do due diligence. I understand the need to keep up of course, it just saddens me that we live in a world where it’s better to be wrong and apologize as long as you are first.

And don’t get me wrong. Fake news is not happening now for the first time ever. Obviously the spread of misinformation and the use of “fake news” or propaganda is not a new thing and has happened in history time and time again. However, these days, propaganda is spread in such a similar way to other news that it becomes difficult to tell which is real and which is either fake or opinion. There are hundreds (probably more) of fake news sites on the web these days all made to look like the real deal. So much so that it has become quite a chore to tell which ones are delivering news, opinion, satire, or just plain misinformation.

Today it is really difficult for people to believe what they see or read in the news. That, added to the fact that people don’t necessarily want to read the real story, but rather the story that best suits their narrative. In my honest opinion, people who ingest the news also need to take responsibility for their own part in what they choose to believe is true and what they want to believe is false. You see it on Facebook and other social media all the time. People will share news that best bolsters their own opinion and skip over the news that does not. In these cases, they shouldn’t be shocked then if they find that truth might lie somewhere in the middle.

In fact, I think that’s where most of the truth can be found these days. I watched with anticipation as the Senate held the hearing on “fake news” and invited in bloggers and others with news websites. But honestly, all I got from the hearing was that these people believe that since they are writing their own “opinion” they can do so with impunity and say whatever they want without fear of any consequences. After all, they are entitled to their own opinion right? And far be it from them to tone down the sensational conspiracy theory style of storytelling when it’s getting so much love from their very own online peanut galleries.

In the end, if anything at all, the hearing should serve to remind people to be exceptionally vigilant when it comes to what they read these days. The power shouldn’t be with the outlet that gives you the news but with you and what you choose to put your faith in. Don’t be fooled by any one side and instead choose to see the bigger picture and formulate your own ideas from there.

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