For years, “fake news” outlets such as TheOnion.com and TheMidEastBeast.com have been entertaining the public with the intent of doing just that – entertaining. Websites like the aforementioned will take real news topics and skew facts to make the reader laugh. In recent months, people have taken the liberty of creating headlines that are sure to grab readers’ attention without much truth to what they’re saying . Sounds harmless, right? Well, it seems fake news is affecting not only the general public and the media, but leaders of countries as well.
It’s no secret that the media as a whole took a huge hit in credibility over coverage of the 2016 U.S Presidential Election. Nearly all news outlets predicted Hillary Clinton to win the election. As President-Elect Trump would put it, they were “WRONG.” Normally, failing to predict the winner of an election isn’t a deal breaker in terms of credibility. However, when you predict a landslide victory for one candidate and it turns out to be a landslide victory for the other, that’s another story altogether.
In the wake of such a dramatic hit to reliability, outlets like CNN and Buzzfeed are hurting any chance at redemption. Biting on fake news stories and giving them actual air time and coverage is the last thing they should do. Yet, most recently, CNN covered the unsubstantiated report that Trump had a longstanding relationship with Russia. The “report” claimed Russia cultivated Trump’s presidential rise to power, and that Trump had done some unspeakable things in his time there. See this Polizette.com article for more detail on the story. The 35-page “report” was clearly a work of fiction. However, Buzzfeed quickly took the bait and left it to the public to figure that out for themselves. This enormous breach of journalistic professionalism came back to bite Buzzfeed from both the public perception as well as in the journalism community.
Thankfully, fact-checkers and other reliable sources of news have called this story out for what it is – fake. A story like this can do a lot to hurt the image of the soon-to-be President of the United States. Doing so harms the security of the nation as well. Public image takes a vital role in international relations. Making Trump look weak makes America look weak. CNN and others would be wise to remember that.
If only the harm of fake news was limited to public image.
In December, a “fake news” headline claiming Israel threatened Pakistan with Nuclear arms should Pakistan send soldiers to Syria surfaced. Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Mohammad Asif took umbrage at the article and took to Twitter in retaliation. “Israel forgets Pakistan is a Nuclear state too,” he wrote. He later retracted the statement when informed the headline was fake.
To be an informed member of society you have to make sure your news sources are reliable. Fake news writers posing as actual journalists are doing everything they can to undermine that. It seems that a fake news tweet can in fact start World War III. While I hope we avoid a war of that scale again, I certainly hope it doesn’t start based on something as inherently stupid as that.
To best convey my feeling towards fake news, I will sign-off with this “quote.”
“Remember, not everything you read on the internet is true.” – Abraham Lincoln