We’ve all heard the “fake news” term, and while it is as old as journalism itself, the term has now become synonymous with any piece of information that strikes a controversial chord with readers.
“Fake news is really anything that you disagree with. It’s all in the eye of the beholder,” says Josh Azriel, professor of journalism at Kennesaw State University. “If we believe whatever information it is, then we believe it to be true. We won’t call it fake news.”
“Fake news is really anything that you disagree with. It’s all in the eye of the beholder.”Josh Azriel, professor of journalism at Kennesaw State University
He explains that the term became widely popular in the months leading up to the 2016 U.S. elections when soon-to-be president Donald Trump helped it gain notoriety.
Fake news makes its rounds on multiple online platforms, particularly social media, gaining speed as the news spreads. Most of it is political in nature, Azriel says.
“We know that in Eastern Europe in 2016, posts about the U.S. elections were falsely created and posted across the internet,” Azriel says, “Yet, even though we now publicly know the headlines and content were untrue and we know the names of those who purposely posted the untrue information, there are still people, despite the investigation, who call it fake news.”
With the 24/7 news cycle, there is no natural pause in this around-the-clock circuit, pushing the competitive boundaries in the race to be first. Traditional news organizations still strive to uphold their journalistic principles – using trusted sources, checking facts to ensure accuracy and fairness, and being accountable to the public.
But news outlets aren’t exempt from getting information wrong, he says. The Associated Press accounts for all of their errors in a weekly column, but Azriel says that not all news organizations are as forthcoming about substantiating their errors.
“Everyone creates fake news, whether they know it or not,” he says.
Spotting fake news can be tricky, and Azriel suggests looking at the source of news and watching for misleading headlines.
Although traditional news organizations often have their own political and social agenda, which rule their outlet’s content, most still uphold basic news principles, he adds. And when a headline doesn’t reflect the content, that’s a surefire indicator of false motives.
When you spot a piece of fake news, Azriel says to leave well enough alone. While that may seem counter-intuitive – you should feel compelled to debunk a myth or correct the facts – there’s always someone who won’t believe it anyway.
And he adds, “News is controversial and you may not agree with it, but don’t be quick to call it fake news just because you don’t agree with it.”
And his biggest tip: Don’t get your news from social media.