Fake News Essay
Topic: Fake News
Recommended Title: The importance of evaluating sources; propaganda; satire; bad reporting
II. Describing fake news
C. Bad reporting
III. Identifying fake news sources
IV. The role of fake news in the 2016 election
V. Donald Trump and the media
A. CNN and the Dirty Dossier
B. Alternative truth
A1 A1: An abstract is a short paragraph that introduces your topic and explains the goals of your paper. The final sentence of this abstract tells the reader what they will encounter in the paper. Abstract
This essay on the fake news phenomenon, is one that many people find confusing, and which has impacted the face of modern politics. There are allegations that fake news impacted the outcome of the 2016 election, with Russia pushing the spread of fake news in order to secure the election of Donald Trump as President. On the other hand, President Trump alleges that many mainstream media sources are actually “fake news” and his administration is pushing the concept of alternative facts when facts conflict with their official statements. The result is that many consumers do not know which sources are reliable and what they can or cannot believe. This paper explores the concept of fake news, how to identify it, and how to find reliable sources of news.
On the surface, the concept of fake news is a simple one. Fake news is any material that is presented as news that the publisher knew was untrue at the time of publication, but chose to present as the truth and publish anyway. It can be dangerous because it misleads the reader or viewer, leaving the audience unable to discern what is truth and what is fiction. These misperceptions can contribute to a wide variety of social problems. For example, there are allegations that fake news impacted the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and that fake news continues to delegitimize Donald Trump’s presidency. In order to critically evaluate these claims, it is important to fully understand the concept of fake news, how to spot it, and how to determine what type of fake news it is. A2 A2: The thesis statement is a one or two sentence statement that expresses the main point of your writing. It is often located at the conclusion of your introductory paragraph. While all fake news has the potential to mislead the audience, fake news that calls into question the role of media in a free society has an even greater disruptive potential, because it helps convince the audience that there is no difference between fact and opinion.
Because the term fake news is being used so frequently, it is important to explore the concept of fake news to determine whether publications that are not true actually fall into the fake news category. Fake news is any material that is presented as news that the publisher knew was untrue at the time of publication, but chose to present as the truth and publish anyway. A3 A3: In a standard five-paragraph essay, this paragraph would have included one or two sentences discussing satire, bad reporting, and propaganda. However, because the author wanted to explore those topics in greater depth, they are each discussed in subsequent paragraphs. Some of the most frequently encountered sources of news that is not true are satire, bad reporting, and propaganda.
Satire uses humor, irony, or exaggeration to expose or highlight issues, and is often employed when discussing politics or current events. While often based on current events, satire has often used the concept of hyperbolic exaggeration to portray a real-life issue as more outrageous, thus bringing attention to the issue. A4 A4: The author chose to use the most famous example of political satire to explain the genre. Though there are no direct quotes to the work, because the sentence contains a synopsis of it, there is a reference to the work at the end. Jonathan Swift’s famous essay A Modest Proposal, which suggests that the solution to the child poverty problem in Ireland is to raise those children as meat is a fantastic example of satire used to highlight a political problem; by suggesting that the children be eaten as meat, Swift highlighted that they were being dehumanized by people in power because of their poverty (Swift, 1729). Modern satire works in the same way; by dramatizing an issue, satire helps bring attention to the underlying concerns about that issue. However, in an increasingly surreal political environment, it can be difficult to write good satire. Elements that once would have been guaranteed to signal to the reader that the piece was satirical have become plausible. As a result, most sources of satire will contain some type of disclaimer that the works are satirical. The fact that the publisher is not presenting the satire as the actual truth keeps it from being fake news.
Another type of news that is often inappropriately lumped into the fake news category is bad reporting. Recall that fake news requires that the publisher knows the news is fake, presents it as the truth, and publishes it anyway. Many different things constitute bad reporting, but it often comes down to a failure to verify facts prior to publication. Some signs of bad reporting include the use of unnamed sources, an inability to accurately give times or dates for an occurrence, or presenting allegations as the truth. One of the most dangerous aspects of bad reporting is that it can be very difficult to distinguish from the truth and from fake news. Tabloid news often provides examples of bad reporting. For example, tabloid publications frequently allege that celebrity couples are on the brink of divorce, citing unnamed sources close to the couple. The audience cannot tell whether the writer had a real unnamed source and failed to verify, which would be bad reporting, or whether the writer fabricated the source and the story, which would be fake news.
A third type of media that is often placed in the fake news category is propaganda. However, this placement is questionable. Propaganda is a difficult term to define, but most experts agree that it uses the media to suggest and persuade people of a particular point of view, and that, in order to do so, it makes some efforts to conceal its bias or source (Casey, 1944). Therefore, most people recognize that a political campaign that uses a third party to spread misinformation about a rival is using propaganda, though it can be difficult to determine the true source of the story and whether or not it is true. However, what many people do not realize is that a political campaign that uses a third party to spread an accurate and positive story about its own candidate is also using propaganda. A5 A5: Propaganda and lie are in italics because the sentence is referring to their use as words or terms The term propaganda has become synonymous with the word lie, but they are not synonyms. Therefore, while some fake news may be propaganda, not all fake news is propaganda, and, more importantly, not all propaganda is fake news.
With so many different types of potentially untrue stories circulating, it becomes easier to understand why it can be difficult for the average audience member to recognize fake news. “It’s not that readers are stupid, or even necessarily credulous: it’s that the news format is easy to imitate and some true stories are outlandish enough to beggar belief” (Hunt, 2016). The first rule is to check the source behind the news. Rather than base your evaluation of the source solely on subjective opinions of the source, examine whether things it has reported in the past have been verified as the truth. Next, look for any information that is clearly untrue in the article; while the presence of a mistake does not automatically render news fake news, it is a warning that the news is not true (Stierwalt, 2016). Then, try to verify the information contained in the article. If the information is true, then you should be able to find verification in other reputable news sources. You can also use neutral websites like Factcheck.org or Politifact.com, which take a non-biased approach to testing the truth of stories. Check the citations on stories and see if the referenced material actually supports the conclusions that an author has drawn from that material. Finally, examine the article for bias and opinions. Quality reporting should be objective and fact-based. Objective does not mean that any news that leaves you with a positive or negative feeling about a person or thing is biased; a factual report of an event can still trigger an emotional response in the audience. However, if the author seems to lead you to a conclusion about the topic, then you are on notice that the source is biased. One good question to ask is, “did the facts lead the author to this conclusion, or did the desired conclusion lead the author to cherry-pick supporting facts?” If you cannot tell the answer to that question from the article, then you need to do more research to determine whether the source is biased and whether the news is truthful.
It is important to do this type of investigation, because believing fake news can have serious potential consequences. For example, many people believe that fake news played a role in the 2016 election, resulting in Donald Trump’s win in the electoral college, despite Hillary Clinton winning a decisive majority of American voters. There is substantial evidence that voters did believe some of the fake news surrounding the Clinton campaign. For example, “73% of Trump voters thought the billionaire financier George Soros paid protesters to disrupt the Republican candidate’s rallies – a fake news report later repeated by the president-elect himself” (Hunt, 2016). Whether these same voters would have chosen differently had they not been misinformed is a matter of speculation, but it is clear that they not only received fake news, but that they believed it.
Clinton is not the only candidate who has concerns about fake news. Currently, Donald Trump is alleging that the media is using fake news stories against him. CNN and Buzzfeed both released the contents of a dossier that contained several damaging allegations against Trump. Trump has denounced them as fake news for doing so. For Buzzfeed, a click-bait internet news source that is better known for its quizzes and games than its news, these allegations are not serious. For CNN, a news network that has a well-established reputation for reporting the actual news, the allegations are more serious. Therefore, one has to ask whether or not CNN reported fake news. The facts establish that Trump and the Obama Administration were briefed on the contents of the so called “dirty dossier.” The contents could not be verified, and were not used by the Obama Administration or released by Trump opponents who compiled the dossier, but, because there were allegations that Russia could use those contents to blackmail Trump, he was briefed on them. CNN reported the existence of the dossier, the contents of the dossier, and the fact that the contents had not been verified. There is disagreement in the news community about whether doing so was responsible, but was not fake news. The dossier did exist and CNN’s reports accurately relayed the contents of the dossier and the fact that, though the source of the information was considered reliable in the intelligence communities, the contents had not been verified. However, Trump is now refusing to interact with CNN and is deriding them as fake news.
Further complicating the matter is that the Trump Administration seems to have a veracity problem. When confronted with proof that a White House spokesperson was being dishonest about a seemingly inconsequential matter, another spokesperson characterized that misinformation as “alternative facts” (Abramson, 2017). Combined with the fact that the President is attempting to discredit sources of news that casts him in a negative light, many are concerned that only news organizations that report the White House’s alternative facts as the truth will retain access to the White House. The result would be that almost all published news would either be fake news or that there would be no way to verify if news was fake or real.
Clearly, fake news is a serious issue with a wide range of potential negative ramifications. Whether or not it truly impacted the outcome of the 2016 election, it clearly has the potential to influence how people view the current political administration, which will influence 2018 and 2020 votes. Therefore, consumers need to know that fake news exists and how to spot it, if they want to make informed and intelligent decisions based on real facts.
Abramson, J. (2017, January 24). ‘Alternative facts’ are just lies, whatever Kellyanne Conway claims. Retrieved January 25, 2017 from The Guardian website: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/23/kellyanne-conway-alternative-facts-lies
Casey, R. (1944, July). What is propaganda? Retrieved January 25, 2017 from the American Historical Association website: https://www.historians.org/about-aha-and-membership/aha-history-and-archives/gi-roundtable-series/pamphlets/what-is-propaganda/defining-propaganda-i
Hunt, E. (2016, December 17). What is fake news? How to spot it and what you can do to stop it. Retrieved January 25, 2017 from The Guardian website: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2016/dec/18/what-is-fake-news-pizzagate
Stierwalt, S. (2016, December 10). 6 tips for identifying fake news. Retrieved January 25, 2017 from the Scientific American website: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/6-tips-for-identifying-fake-news/
Swift, J. (1729). A modest proposal. Retrieved January 25, 2017 from The Art Bin website: http://art-bin.com/art/omodest.htmlDownload Full Essay