As values go, trust sits the highest on most of our moral dashboards. It has been this way for generations etched by the epitaph, “In God we trust.” Right from the get-go, our parents imprinted, “Trust me. You’re not going to want to eat that!” After a week or so with our heads in the toilet bowl, we get it. It only takes us one life lesson to understand how trust is earned. With religious attention, we carry this assurance forward into our daily lives. As we mature, we happily trust all that is earned – including how we get our news.
In 2013, traditional TV news continued to command the lion’s share of viewers at 60 per cent. Social media and newspapers followed in behind with just under 30 per cent and radio even further back at 19 per cent. Moving forward to 2016; viewer numbers continue to increase for social media as Americans now flock to the internet to get their news. Sites such as Buzzfeed, Mashable, Vice and The Verge have replaced more traditional news sources by homogenizing daily events into bite-sized stories. All relentlessly broadcasting through a multitude of social media news feeds and apps. But one in particular – Facebook – clicked its way to the forefront of fake news proliferation.
In May of this year, Pew Research in America reported that a whopping 44 per cent of adults get their daily news now from Facebook. This means, almost half of adult Americans have entrusted Facebook to be their main source for providing ‘credible’ news.
If the news is coming through Facebook, it has to be real. Right? Wrong.
This blind trust not only heralded Facebook into a firestorm of ethics, it eroded the credibility of traditional news reporting and its social media distribution. Facebook, the presumed vanguard of social media practices was no longer able to clean their own house. All the while, millions of viewers continued to get their news from dubious journalists on shady websites. Money was to be made and opinions indelibly changed by countries such as Russia, Romania and the U.S. Each glorifying the hard graft of creating and spreading false news.
Swaying popular influence.
America was in the throws of a contentious election campaign. Mud was flying everywhere and here-say was abundant as two political parties battled it out for the public’s opinion. Hungry for votes, each engaged in unethical social media practices by developing fake news and memes authored by an army of clandestine journalists. Fake news was now funnelling fiction through Facebook to over 140 million users. By the end stretch of the presidential campaign, fake news was actively helping both political parties build formidable propaganda machines by spreading disinformation and swaying electoral opinion. Even a foreign power had supposedly invested considerable time and effort in spreading negative propaganda to levy support with their choice for president. In December of this year, the CIA officially recognized that Russian-hosted fake news sites were highly influential when determining America’s 45th president. Strategically sanctioned by their leader Vladimir Putin.
So how do we pull ourselves out of the quagmire of mistruths and propaganda and identify fake from real?
Two easy and practical steps can help you regain your trust in news.
Click-bait is a term relating to links or websites that encourage you to read on. Once you click onto a site, the clicks become revenue generators for suspect web hosts and their authors. In almost all cases, the headlines are false or at the very least, misleading. One of the most notorious examples being, “He Found a Cure for Cancer with This Pill. Now Doctors Hate Him.”
If it seems ridiculous. Then it is!
One news site proclaiming to be the ‘truth,’ ran the headline, “CNN: ‘Drunk Hillary’ Beat Sh**t Out of Bill Clinton on Election Nite.” This headline is not only crass and illiterate but holds three glaring examples of bad journalism.
First, quoting another news competitor. This would never happen. When have you ever seen or heard of a media competitor mentioned on your favourite broadcast or news site? Unless, as in this case, where you want to deflect the chance of libel when calling Hillary a ‘drunk.’
Then there is the use of profanity. If and when a reputable news organization would need to include profanity, it would be prefaced with a disclaimer. And how about that spelling? Yes, Webster may differ from Oxford, but certainly not when aligning to journalistic writing standards as American Press or Canadian Press guidelines.
Guidelines and standards are the vanguards for quality and journalistic integrity.
With any credible news, the first part of developing a story is fact checking. Be it checking sources or proofing data, by executing this due diligence, your news integrity will gain the trust needed to be YOUR reliable source of information. In Canada, privately held news providers and their social media properties, are held to journalistic ethics by the standards of both the Canadian Association of Broadcasters and the Canadian Broadcasting Standards Council. As for public broadcasting, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Journalistic Standards and Practices, represent its ethical framework. All under the approval of the Canadian government’s own watchdog, the Canadian Radio and Television Commission. In print, including many of their online properties, the Canadian Association of Journalists provides similar guidelines and standards. Collectively, these represent the standards of journalism you would expect for news gathering integrity. If you find some of your local news feeds are not following these guidelines, then call them out. Hold them accountable.
Believe me, their advertisers would not want to be in the middle of a fake news scandal.
Practising these three simple steps in fake news prevention will put you back into the driver’s seat when getting your news. Remember, trust is gained. Like a bad piece of meat, if smells off then throw it out. Why should your news be any different?
Fake news stinks!
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