The Threat of Fake News

By Brian Figueroa

 

Fake news has become prevalent in the media, creating outrage and polarizing American citizens. It can be difficult at times to discern bad journalism from fake news, but the distinction is important. Fake news is being used as a tactic to destabilize the freedom of information in America and undermine the organizing efforts of the underprivileged.

People in power make use of fake news by letting it deceive those who who depend on them to be an authority on verified information. News agencies are increasingly reporting in ways that value speed and sensationalism over accuracy. This “click-bait” style reporting will exploit stories as soon as they are leaked without analyzing them, abandoning the tradition of journalism as trusted gatekeepers of information for ad revenue. While it’s important for readers to use critical thinking, many people do not have the time to verify news for themselves and have usually trusted journalism to provide this duty. By spreading unchecked and biased information that political actors spread, news outlets are playing into the hands of people in power to shape the views of citizens with potentially (and sometimes purposefully) false information. This trend has done nothing but undermine the value of truth. Citizens are encouraged to take on extremist viewpoints that support their favored version of reality instead of having a stable point of reference to gauge people in power on their actions.

Since Donald Trump took office in 2016, people have had to endure his countless tweets, using “fake news” as a catch phrase to imply something isn’t real, when in reality, it’s just an event or critique he doesn’t agree with. When the leader of a country uses his power to label entire sources of information he doesn’t like as “fake,” it puts freedom of speech in danger. The president and his political supporters’ use of the phrase ”fake news” is just another tool of propaganda that counters any progress toward revealing political and corporate lies, and prevents the president from having to face consequences for his actions.

In light of the seemingly unstoppable trend of fake news, citizens need to take on critical thinking as part of their civic duty, when it comes to the media. Critical thinking is the key to starting the fight toward protecting the value of truth. Citizens need to be given the tools to know how to evaluate a story, or the platforms that news is posted to (especially social media) need to provide solid proof that a story is true before allowing it to spread. This would not be censorship, so much as a protection against the misuse of free speech. The First Amendment does not protect against statements that cause unnecessary public panic, like yelling fire in a crowded theater. By allowing false information to spread, both journalists and social media outlets like Facebook, can put citizens at risk by allowing fake news to create extremist views that can lead to violence.

When news outlets make statements like calling Black Lives Matter a terrorist movement or help disparage survivors like Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, it keeps underrepresented communities from participating in American democracy and keeps those who do not want to see change in power.

Combating fake news is a matter of questioning authority, especially questioning the credibility and motives of politicians and journalists. Some questions that people should consider when reading news are: What is this information based on and where did that information come from? Could the source be biased or can the source benefit by this information? Is this fact or opinion? Was the data in the story used properly? Does an event have roots in history that can help the story be understood more clearly? Questions like these can guide the development of a critical thinking tool kit to help citizens navigate the media landscape.

 

Fake New Essay Contest:

In the fall of 2018, the English Department at Berkeley City College sponsored a school-wide student essay contest calling for well-written, compelling essays offering a socially-responsible and original stance on the theme of “Fake News.” Faye Bird Winer and Lillian Maheu tied for first prize and were each awarded $200; Brian Figueroa was awarded $50 for third place. All three essays are published in this special edition of the BCC Voice.

About the Author:

I chose to pursue an English degree because of the wonderful professors at Berkeley City College. They’ve been consistently creative and thoughtful, while providing an engaging curriculum. Due to their energy and critique, I feel prepared to transfer and achieve my academic goals. The experience has been a positive source of creativity that I’ve been able to integrate into other creative outlets in my life. Ideas and critiques of the classroom come off the page and into the musical projects I play in: Tabitha Dillinger (Oak) and Night Shapes (Oak).

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