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Faking the Facts

Samantha Winn

Samantha Winn

William Wallace, Staff Writer

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In today’s world, we rely on social media more than ever.

It’s our source of education.

It’s our source of relaxation.

It’s our source of celebration.

But as it turns out, it may also be our source of misinformation.

We all know the saying “not everything you read on the internet is true”. Well, as the years go by and technology becomes an increasingly involved part of everyday life, this statement has become more and more accurate.

But recently, it seems that the fake news epidemic has become more and more complicated.

On Nov. 7, North Carolina father and firefighter Edgar Welch drove to Washington and entered the Comet Ping Pong pizza shop with one goal on his mind: Exposing Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton operating a child slavery kingpin.

Fortunately enough, the rumor turned out to be completely false.

Unfortunately for the patrons and employees of Comet Ping Pong, Welch’s intentions were far from false.

Welch brandished an assault rifle style firearm and seized the building whilst attempting to find the secret “underground passage” that was rumoured to exist in the pizzeria.

In an event that eventually donned the name “Pizzagate,” the world saw a misunderstanding of extreme proportions, and the true dangers of fake news came crashing into reality.

So what is fake news?

“Fake news is a false news story that has a real-world consequence,” South Carolina Scholastic Press Association Director Leslie Dennis said. “You can see fake news or satirical stories at outlets such as The Onion but those do not have an immediate impact or effect. It is also well known and generally understood that those [stories] are false.”

Fake news is generally found over social media sites like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. For example, the “Pizzagate” incident began on Twitter as a joke of sorts — a joke that quickly spiraled out of control. Mark Zuckerberg, the creator of Facebook, has claimed to be working on a solution, but many people are skeptical.

“The conspiracy theory and lies spread about Comet Ping Pong were so out there that you’d think most people would toss them off as blatant untruths. But that’s not what happened here.” Said South Carolina Press Association member Jen Madden. “The staff and owners of this pizza place had to hire security because the threats got so severe that they were concerned for their safety.”

So why is fake news so popular?

“You see the headlines and it catches your attention,” Tribe Talk adviser Shawntell Pace said. “When you see these stories you’re like, ‘Oh, I agree with this because this is my viewpoint’ and then you share it, and it continues on and on because we curate on Facebook, this little bubble where everybody kind of agrees with us.”

According to Dennis, it seems that in many instances, fake news is simply more exciting than real news. Conspiracies and exposes are more gripping to the public than stories of everyday life. And when we find an interesting story, we tend to share it, regardless of its truthfulness. Unfortunately, this “cycle of sharing” continues on and on, circulating around social media until it gets so popular that something drastic happens.

And fake news is certainly not a new trend. Even as far back as the 1800s fake news was a commonplace occurrence.

“In the late 1800s, we had the rise of yellow journalism,” Dennis said. “Back then, it was the battle between [Joseph] Pulitzer and [William Randolph] Hearst. It’s the same basic concept, just a different era.”

So is there a solution to this problem or are we now condemned to questioning the truthfulness of every article we read on the internet?

“When we read stories online, we need to consider the source. Is it reliable?” Said Madden. “ If in doubt, research it. Google, Snopes and Politifact are great sites to check to see if something is true before sharing. Also, don’t just read the headline… read the entire article. One red flag is if the headline is written as a question. Those are often click bait. Read your local newspaper in print or online and follow several different news sources. Follow credible journalists on Twitter and Facebook. Stay informed and engaged.”

The solutions to fake news are oftentimes more obvious than people realize.

“I think that if people are taught how to recognize fake news, just like how were taught to recognize the phishing emails that come through in our emails,” Pace said. “When you go on a website, look at the About Us Section. most of the people on those different websites tell you that it’s a satire or that they are there to produce fake news.”

And places like Facebook and Instagram are oftentimes less reliable when it comes to reporting. If you want solid, reliable reporting, get it from an established accredited source.
“I always advise my student assistants to get their news from multiple sources – NPR, BBC, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc,,” Dennis said. “Do not just read one or two sources. Read three to five sources. Make sure you get a local, national and international source.”

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