Fighting for truth in the Age of Social Media: Against fake news

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Editorial – March 2017

Lies have always been muddled in the recesses of reporting since the start of journalism. Ever since humans learned to report on the significant events happening around them, they have also learned to deliberately make up stories to fool or entertain their target audience. Humans have enjoyed reading, creating, and circulating political conspiracies that have broad implications over the years. Publications such as the National Enquirer in the US have skewed the truth for sensationalism and wider distribution of their papers. There are even news organisations who blatantly use their platforms to promote news that lean to their biases, such as Breitbart on the right or Occupy Democrats on the left.
Aside from these, there are satires and parodies that serve as bitingly humorous mirrors of mainstream news. Nowadays, satirical news are more often seen in print media during April Fool’s Day where newspapers print occasional news satire articles then claim them it as a joke the following day.

While news satires are okay in giving the public entertainment, there is a high risk of them being associated to the greater danger of journalism – fake news. Fake news have no factual basis but are presented as facts and are even endorsed by both mainstream media and the leading politicians and powerful people in society. Worse, they fuel debates in significant state events such as elections and referendums. Although most fake news sites are generated from the work of private and uninvolved individuals, many fake news are used as propaganda by countries such as Russia and America. What’s worse about this problem is the deliberate subtlety of using social media as a platform to distribute so called “credible news articles”. The most contentious fake news is the idea that Trump and Putin rigged the vote in Wisconsin, news that clung heavily throughout Trump’s presidency. Even the Australian public is not entirely safe from fake news – reports linking the halal certification industry to terrorism was so persistent in Facebook that it sparked a critical inquiry – that found nothing – in 2016.

Even if research has shown that only a small fraction of the population accept fake news that is circulated on social media, it is still a serious issue that everyone needs to solve. It is a glaring reminder of the dangers of highly partisan stories that people are exposed to since time immemorial. It exposes the one-sidedness of most of the news we read about. It confuses and misleads a lot of the young people who love using their social media accounts to collect and curate their own news feeds in order to avoid stories that conflict with their biases. The most important thing to do about this problem is to check the facts. All people from the young to the adults, even media outlets, have the imperative duty to investigate the truth out of every story. We need to learn how to critically read online content, to research and check multiple sources to verify the validity of every article. It is our duty, as free men and women, to use our reason and logic to fight for truth even in the age of social media.

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