Fake news breeds danger for the future of democracy

Kellen Stepler | Features Editor


Someone once told me, “Believe none of what you hear, and half of what you see.”

When it comes to social media, that couldn’t be closer to the truth.

Go on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or whatever, and what do you find? A lot of falsehoods, myths and lies that spread like wildfire.

A team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that “falsehood diffused significantly farther, faster, deeper and more broadly than the truth in all categories of information, and the effects were more pronounced for false political news than for false news about terrorism, natural disasters, science, urban legends or financial information.”

“It took the truth about six times as long as falsehood to reach 1,500 people,” the team said.

That’s ridiculous, but true. It’s easy to spread false information nowadays. Technology improves every day. Social media has become one of our main sources of news. But faster doesn’t always mean better.

Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1440. His generation longed for new knowledge and information every six months. Our generation gets a new webpage in six seconds. And how is this technology used? Often, to spread rumors and misinformation.

This misinformation is false information and can be spread intentionally or unintentionally. Regardless, this fake news is harmful and even detrimental to real life.

I’ve seen stuff online claiming that the pledge of allegiance has been banned, that Barack Obama is a radical Islamic terrorist and even incorrect sports scores and tweets.

Part of this is a problem because anyone – literally, anyone – can access a social media website and pronounce their knowledge (or lack thereof) and the whole world can have access to it immediately.

The other problem is that people don’t know what to trust, and end up believing the wrong things. I mean, if you saw it on Facebook, then it has to be true, right?

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great things you can find on social media. This isn’t a social media bash. But we as a society need to fix this epidemic of misinformation and fake news, and it starts with us.

If you see something that you don’t think is right, then don’t retweet it.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, “fewer rely on or trust social media for political news than say the same of in-person discussions.” And, no country has a majority of participants say social media are very important for learning about politics.

Ever since the Internet has been around, online hoaxes have always spread. Now granted, bots, algorithms and our current political state have caused it to disperse more, but there’s a couple things we can do to combat “fake news.”

Readers can use fact-checkers. There are dozen of fact-checking websites online; people have jobs to fact check information.

We can also vet their URLs and follow the links to these sources to dig a little deeper. Sometimes the sources don’t even mean to be misinformation – it’s either satire, like The Onion, or remember The War of the Worlds?

We should also be skeptical of data and charts we see on these sites. Often, we assume data to be factual. Ask yourself, are the numbers feasible, are they relevant, is it the best way to get information?

It’s just important to think before you share or retweet news.