Fake News Websites Tarnish Journalistic Credibility

Photo courtesy of David Hawgood, Geograph

During this election season, social media has run rampant with a wide variety of fake news sites. Occupydemocrats.com and rightwingnews.com are two such sites that publish biased news through popular platforms like Facebook and Instagram. These sites come from either side of the political spectrum and, much like the tabloids one would find in a supermarket, they are filled with radical accusations with little to no factual support. In the case of the 2016 presidential campaign, articles have been published by these fake sites to cast both candidates in a bad light in order to further their own respective political ideologies.

“It’s a shame to see honest journalism hated by the same population that identifies with un-credible news sites,” sophomore Amie Wuchter said.

Facebook has become a breeding ground for these unreliable news sites, with a majority of the most popular of such sites forming within the last year.

“I think this fake and biased news truly devalues the importance of journalism in our country,” Jimmy Scalia, a sophomore, said. “When people receive news, they expect to have it to be from a reliable source that takes great time and effort to produce the truth. Due to social media, everyone’s a reporter now, which makes it very difficult to decipher what’s right and wrong.”

These sites have captured the attention of Democrats and Republicans alike. The mudslinging has led to a credibility gap: some people now place legacy publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal in the same category of dubious news outlets.

“I post from occupydemocrats.com after I have fact-checked the information,” said sophomore Arielle Gordon, explaining her personal vetting process when sharing news on social media. “Fox News is basically a fake news channel, so it’s not much different." 

According to a recent Buzzfeed survey, one out of three of every articles on occupydemocrats.com has no factual evidence. A generation gap also comes into question when discussing this topic.  

“The same people that used to tell us, ‘just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s real’ are the same people that are posting from these sites, and that’s a double standard that isn’t being discussed,” sophomore Stephanie De Lellis said. “People will post from these sources, and agree with them as long as it supports their opinion, they don’t care where the information comes from."

Ironically enough, one of the more extensive studies into this topic comes from Buzzfeed, a site now widely considered to be reliable that until relatively recently confined itself to the publication of memes and pictures of cats. Buzzfeed has since hired several credible journalists, and is now seen by many as a reliable news source.  

Buzzfeed’s case study involved three Facebook pages from liberal sites, three from conservative sites and three mainstream news sites. The study involved a combined 17.5 million subscribed fans. The study showed that the left-wing pages were more truthful than the right-wing pages. However, those left-wing pages had more stories with no factual evidence than the right-wing pages. The most important part of this study regards the overall percentage of truthful articles: in this respect, the mainstream pages consisted of 94.8 percent truthful articles, the left had 56.3 percent and the right had 47.9 percent.

The fact remains that the mainstream news sources continue to be the most reliable in media. In this ever changing world, it is important to receive information from both sides of the party line, and to craft opinions based on the information, while also fact-checking. Ramapo professor Edna Negron believes that these sites will only continue to post false information. They will remain popular as long as there is information to be shared. As the political news dies down, these sites should eventually disappear, or go quiet.

These sites have changed journalism as a whole, especially in light of the recent election. The constant fact-checking has created a credibility gap that has all but abandoned the big media conglomerates. In today’s society, it has become second nature to double and triple check the information that is consumed, and sites like these seem to give good reason for skepticism.