If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past few months, you’ve heard about President Donald Trump’s “war” with the media. Apparently, displeased with the recent coverage of the seemingly neverending fiascos at the White House, the president has begun challenging who he calls the “FAKE MEDIA,” particularly in Twitter:
I could provide many examples of Trump’s negative sentiment towards the media, as tweets like this have become almost a daily occurrence. And, although it’s fair to say that it isn’t abnormal for a president to disagree with media coverage, Trump’s blatant attempts to discredit journalists is a bit off-putting.
I could go on, but this blog post isn’t about Donald Trump. I think there’s enough being said about him at the moment that I don’t need to add to the noise. I’m here to digest and reflect on one main point of discussion during class this week: fake news.
Fake news has been around for a very long time, about as long as newspapers themselves. We discussed several examples in class this week, like the infamous six-part series ran by The New York Sun in 1835 about the discovery of life on the moon. Edgar Allen Poe wrote his own version of a miraculous moon landing, which was published in the Southern Literary Messenger in that same year.
After Poe’s fictitious story was published, he found that, although he openly admitted to the story being fake, people refused to believe that it was:
I found an eerily similar example to this while pursuing recent news coverage about fake news. About a month ago, 28-year-old named James McDaniel put together a fake news website as a joke. He wanted to see how naive the people of the Internet could be. The site features ridiculous headlines, like “WIKILEAKS: OBAMA RAN PEDOPHILE RING OUT OF WHITEHOUSE” and “BREAKING: HILLARY ARREST IMMINENT.” The result of his social experiment, he says, are surprising. As McDaniel reported in a post on the site itself, within a week, the website had:
- More than 1 million visitors
- Thousands of comments on stories
- Hundreds of thousands of Facebook likes and shares
And, perhaps, most surprisingly:
“…a very small handful of people questioning the legitimacy of our stories, despite a disclaimer at the bottom of the page stating that our stories are not based in reality. Although, one would think the ridiculousness of the stories would not necessitate a disclaimer.”
First of all, I applaud McDaniel for accomplishing this level of virality in a short amount of time. As someone who works in the industry of digital marketing, it’s an incredibly impressing feat.
Out of curiosity, I spent about a half hour reading the comments on this article. Even though McDaniel had clearly stated that the site was fake, there were a few people, like this “Ms Puggly,” who legitimately believe some of the articles to be fact.
I also found this gem:
With the amazing capability of the Internet to quickly spread messages far and wide, I’d say we live in a world of, as Kellianne Conway would say, “alternative facts.” Consumers gravitate to content that resonates with them and, in the case of some, that content relates to the legitimacy of political figures they disagree with. It doesn’t matter if it’s published by CNN or Breitbart: it’s human nature to see facts as relative to our experience. As McDaniel observed:
“When I started this site, I had no idea that the stories would garner this much attention. While writing them, I was aiming for stories that no one would believe, but rather would be satirical in an age where disinformation is so prevalent”
In the age of prevalent misinformation, the noble work of truth-seeking journalists is more important than ever. Living in a time when a hoax website can be published and gain a massive following within a week, it’s more important than ever to support journalists and their institutions and, even more so, hold them accountable for what they publish.