It seems that there are more news outlets than ever these days. Ever since the start of the 2016 election, people have wanted to cash in on the journalism business, resulting in news sites popping up rapidly. While some may rejoice at the idea of more sources and outlets for information, there is a terrible downside to all of these new sites. The amount of fake news sites have increased drastically. Many people have been using social media, like Facebook, for sources to back up their views and keep up with current issues. However, with all of the fake news, how is one supposed to tell what is real and what is false?
Before getting into why people are even tolerating fake news, an important distinction must be made. It is pertinent to note that there is a very large difference between satirical news and fake news. Satire sites like the Onion and Clickhole post comical, blatantly odd and satirical new stories pertaining to anything from impossible events to celebrities. An example of the articles that the Onion posts is: “Thousands of Rats Tumble About Uncontrollably Inside Snoopy Balloon High Above Thanksgiving Day Parade.” A key note about satire is that its material is never meant to spark conflict, rather, satirical articles have humorous tones and odd topics.
Fake news, however, is much more dangerous than overzealous claims of rats being in balloons. Fake news sites often post incendiary articles pertaining to current hot topics; it is meant to spark controversy and anger its readers. Fake sites like The National Report and the Denver Guardian are two prime examples of fake news sites. An example of one of their articles was posted on Facebook by the Denver Guardian titled, “FBI AGENT SUSPECTED IN HILLARY EMAIL LEAKS FOUND DEAD IN APPARENT MURDER-SUICIDE.” According to the Washington Post, this article received more than 500,000 shares on Facebook. This is a classic example of a fake news story.
Why is it that no one seems to get too upset about all of the fake news that has been running rampant? For example, despite the previously mentioned article about Hillary Clinton being repeatedly proven false, it continues to be shared and treated as true. Why would people willingly share false, incendiary articles like this? Brooke Binkowski from popular fact checking website Snopes has the answer. She states that “There's a lot of confirmation bias … A lot of people want proof that their worldview is the accurate and appropriate one.” People take the bait set by fake news articles, which are purposely meant to cause disagreements and fights, and run with it.
An important question that is looming over the issue of fake news is if it is protected by the First Amendment. The Bill of Rights specifically states that people are protected to exercise freedom of speech and freedom of the press, so can one argue that untrue news falls under this protection? The answer to this, unfortunately, is yes. Satirical material, such as the Onion, is protected under the Bill of Rights as freedom of expression and humor. The publishing of false news, is technically also protected, but for different reasons. This was brought to light due to the New York Times v Sullivan Podcast case. The case regarded a police commissioner suing the New York Times over an ad that he claimed hurt his reputation. The New York Times claimed that they were protected by the First Amendment and that they had no intention of hurting his reputation. Despite the ad having some false information about the commissioner, the Supreme Court unanimously sided with the New York Times because they were in fact protected by the First Amendment.
Now, there may be concern when it comes to deciphering what is real and what is fake news considering it is legal for these fake news sites to post as much as they please. However, they often are more easily extinguishable than believed. Fake news sources posted on Facebook usually share a couple of general themes. They typically contain an attention grabbing, emotionally charged title meant to incite powerful emotions, such as fear or anger. Also, the first couple of paragraphs will typically be more well written while the remaining few will drop off in quality. If an article you are reading does not display any of these signs but you believe it is false, you can also use sources on the internet. There are websites that are made to determine if stories are real or not, including Snopes. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is to fact check all articles before you share them on Facebook.