Fake news: otherwise known as the two words nearly everyone has heard ad nauseam for the past several months. However, in spite of its inherently annoying nature, this phrase represents a very real problem in our society — and others around the world.
Sometime in 2015, articles with long, somewhat seedy titles began popping up all over Facebook users’ news feeds. This lower form of online journalism, also known as clickbait, was created to generate high volumes of web traffic to otherwise irrelevant websites with questionable URLs. This tactic has steadily risen in popularity over the past two years, with even popular websites sinking to exaggerating titles for the sake of attracting clicks.
This phenomena spun out of control as the United States entered election season, with exaggerated — and even downright false — stories about candidates surfacing at the most inopportune times and even caused some very real consequences (e.g., Pizzagate).
Even after all of the public acknowledgment of the existence of fake news, social media users are still faced with clickbait disguised as legitimate news stories. It should come as no surprise that this never-ending flow of fake news has led both Facebook and Google to come under fire for not making a greater effort to prevent such false information from spreading like wildfire.
In response to their critics, Google has started the arduous process of rewriting its powerful search algorithms to keep fake news stories from the top of users’ results. This tactic also entails 10,000-plus employees meticulously flagging pages that publish hoaxes, conspiracy theories, and other content the company labels “low-quality.” While this does not necessarily eliminate fake news from the internet, it certainly reduces its visibility and relevance.
Additionally, this effort has come just months after Google announced it permanently banned over 200 AdSense users for attempting to make a profit by perpetuating misleading or false content.
While these actions are a noteworthy step in the right direction, a report released by the Harvard Kennedy School and Northeastern University suggested the news media could be doing more to counteract the chilling effects of fake news.
Among the researchers’ many recommended plans of action, the most notable included: reaching out to conservative agencies such as Cato and Koch Institutes to counteract civilians’ general distrust of the news media, thus reducing their likelihood to believe in “underground” sources; collecting more data from social media platforms to aid journalists in accurate reporting; and incorporating researchers into the average newsroom, thereby providing journalists with “cheap and reliable sources of information so that well-sourced reporting can outpace the spread of misinformation on social media.”
Regardless of the tactics that are employed, it is imperative that they put an end to the perpetuation of fake news once and for all. Failure to do so will only enforce Americans’ reliance on irreputable sources due to their lack of affiliation with the news media — and that is simply a risk we cannot afford to take.