By Duke Staff
BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith continues to face criticism for his decision to publish an unverified 35-page dossier of allegations about president-elect Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia. This criticism gives way to talking about the ongoing problem of fake, unsourced news in the United States.
Fake news, according to Politifact, describes fictional stories that are dressed up to appear as verified news articles. Fake news goes beyond exaggeration or sensationalism: It has little or no truth value. While many news organizations, including The Duke, agree that it was unethical for BuzzFeed to publish unverified claims about President-elect Trump, at least BuzzFeed is being held to traditional journalistic standards.
Websites like westernjournalism.com, which published a false article last year about Sharia law being imposed on women in Florida, aren’t subject to the fact-checking that established newspapers face. Websites like this can make thousands in advertising sales when their lies are shared on Facebook and Twitter.
It is vital in today’s political climate of distrust for young Americans, particularly the college-educated, to steer clear of these deceitful sites and instead support real journalism at respected news outlets. Every share and like on Facebook, every retweet and every click you make puts revenue into someone’s coffers. When you share a fake news article, you are encouraging the spread of misinformation and failing to support actual journalists.
Conservatives are probably familiar with the idea of the “liberal media,” a term that came into use during President Richard Nixon’s tenure in the 1960s, according to The Atlantic. Part of the fuel that feeds the fire of fake news is the idea that mainstream media is biased, and tiny, unknown blogs report facts that larger companies will not publish. While we at The Duke would never claim that established news outlets are perfect and impartial, they have several advantages over sketchy sites.
Mainstream media outlets have audiences from diverse backgrounds, which means that when they report something false, they get raked over the coals by their readers. Every day, the New York Times publishes paragraphs’ worth of corrections to the previous day’s issue. Even the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette receives hundreds of phone calls and emails each year with corrections and criticisms from readers. If The Duke never corrected any mistakes, we could not expect readers to come back every week.
Fake news sites do not have reputations to uphold. They have few regular readers. Most popular false articles surface for a short time, do some damage, then disappear. They face no consequences for publishing lies. All we ask is that you do not reward them with your clicks.