Post Classifieds

Fake News: Not News at all

By Lydia McGee
On September 7, 2017


Posts that may look credible at first might contain false information
Photo Courtesy of MCXV

Kellyanne Conway did not introduce the post-truth era; she just made it worse.

    In reality, fake news and “alternative facts” have been around for several years prior to her statement. The World Economic Forum labelled the spread of misinformation one of their top risks in 2013.

    To clarify, spreading fake news involves spreading fabricated stories or stories with false attribution or intentionally incorrect data. Spreading “alternative” facts involves spreading an idea that something that happened was misinterpreted and it actually happened a way it did not. In a way, it is an attempt to gaslight the entire nation.

    Unfortunately, science is a field where this is a predominant issue. Especially since the late 1990s, big corporations have received unwanted attention when they proposed to influence Congress to convince the public that scientists’ conclusions regarding the climate were shaky and insubstantial. Internally, scientists, according to communications expert and professor Dominique Brossard, also struggle with properly communicating findings to the public on top of the difficulties that come with carrying out legitimate science and obtaining accurate information from case studies and test groups.

    Brossard commented in a February American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting that “Journalists are not all well-trained to assess the validity of a study. They are trying to find the human interest and the hope—a headline like: ‘New study brings hope to families with Alzheimer’s…Fake news about science has always existed. What has changed now is social media and the potential to disseminate this kind of news much faster among social networks.”

    However, those that spread these potentially inaccurate human interest stories are adding fuel to the fire but it is rarely if ever maliciously: “If I tell you that 87 percent of scientists believe there is no link because the evidence shows that, but then there is this one study, many parents will say: ‘I’m not going to take the risk. I’m going to believe that one,’” Brossard says. “It’s not that people don’t trust science, it’s that they are going to use science that fits their beliefs.”

    To this day, this miscommunication and distinct gray area as far as science is concerned is why there is such a noticeable divide on the climate debate. It does not matter if the majority of scientists agree that man influences climate change or negatively affects the environment if enough doubt is cleverly sown into social media and the issue is divided along partisan lines.

    Social media’s design encourages users to react quickly and share as much as possible. It is more difficult to slow down and determine what is actually credible before hitting the retweet button.

    How do you navigate in this environment? One way to do so is to recognize that some people write and release factually incorrect news stories for the sole purpose of click-baiting users for profit. The Washington Post’s Abby Ohlheiser wrote an article in November 2016 with interviews from both communications experts and with those who made fake news their profession: “The stories were designed to be believed and shared. On Facebook, they were seeded into conservative and liberal filter bubbles through hyperpartisan media organizations with enormous numbers of Facebook followers,” she writes.

    Vigilance is important. The best precaution social media users can take is thinking before retweeting, commenting, or liking a post. Posts that seem legitimate at first may or may not be from a reputable source and may not contain accurate information. Instead of sharing enriching information on your wall, you may be putting money in the person’s pocket that fabricated the entire story.

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