Fake News as the Biggest Challenge: Thesis Statement

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According to McNair (2017, p. 38), fake news is “intentional disinformation (invention or falsification of known facts) for political and/or commercial purposes, presented as real news.” The ‘fake news’ phenomenon is an important issue to address as it has sparked social, cultural, and political issues within the twenty-first century (McNair 2017). For example, political concerns arising from ‘fake news’ were significantly evident during the 2016 presidential election, where Allcott and Gentzkow (2017, p. 213) estimated that “the average adult saw and remembered 1.14 fake stories.” Within this essay, I will critically examine what can be classified as ‘fake news’, particularly focusing on the concerns associated with false, fabricated information which is intended to deceive. The potential impacts resulting from the dissemination of fake news will be discussed, as well as the primary motivations for publishing false information. In addition, ways in which the media can address the challenges presented by the spread of false information will be compared and evaluated. In order for our society to function democratically, it is necessary that the most effective strategies to tackle ‘fake news’ are identified and put into action.

Firstly, it is essential to acknowledge different explanations defining ‘fake news’. For example, Allcott and Gentzkow (2017, p. 213) define ‘fake news’ as “news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false.” In this case, Allcott and Gentzkow (2017) are primarily concerned with information that is identifiably false, fabricated, and deceiving, thus obtaining the potential to mislead readers. The ‘fake news’ phenomenon can also be associated with hoaxes, parody and satire, state propaganda, and other forms of manipulated content (McNair 2017). It has been implied that there are two leading motivations behind the production of fake news, which include gaining profit from advertising revenue, as well as ideological motivations that are focused on political gain (Allcott and Gentzkow 2017; Brummette et al. 2018). Despite these identifiable purposes, ‘fake news’ may be published for a variety of reasons. Satirical websites, such as The Onion, strive to create humor through the production of “bizarre stories which they often produced under the influence of commercial pressures” (McNair 2017, p. 34). Although there are debates as to whether parody and satire should be classified as ‘fake news’, Brummette et al. (2018, p. 499) argue that it remains a “popular and accepted form.”

Arguably, it is equally as important to highlight what should not be classified as fake news. A key example is that information that is perceived to be biased, and may consequently be disagreed with, should not be labeled as ‘fake news’ (McNair 2017, p. 37). Since the 2016 presidential election, politicians have increasingly been using the term ‘fake news’ to their advantage. According to McNair (2017), politicians use the term to attack media organizations and journalists presenting a negative media image of them, in an attempt to harm their reputable status. Brummette et al. (2018, p. 497) support this view, stating: “Social media users from opposing political parties communicate in homophilous environments and use “fake news” to disparage their opposition.” It also remains important to consider that not all misleading information is purposefully fabricated in an attempt to deceive. This is why unintentional reporting mistakes resulting from human error should not be considered ‘fake news’ (Allcott and Gentzkow 2017; McNair 2017). These mistakes are significantly less problematic in relation to false information published intentionally by troll factories and unreliable media organizations intending to generate profit and political gain. Likewise, conspiracy theories should also not be regarded as ‘fake news’ (Allcott and Gentzkow 2017; McNair 2017).

On another note, it remains essential to identify strategies that will allow the media to address the challenges presented by the dissemination of fake news. It has been proposed by Cooper (2017) that one solution to the fake news phenomenon could be the introduction of an ‘auto logic checker’. The application would act in a similar way to a spell-checker, with its’ main purpose being to highlight conflicting evidence or bad logic (Cooper, 2017). However, the main problem with this proposed strategy is that it uses crowdsourced data, and as Cooper (2017, para. 10) states: “Building a community of people to create the supporting data is harder than building the technology.” An alternative approach could be to encourage the use of fact-checking and general warnings, as suggested by Clayton et al. (2019). The potential impact of placing “rated false” or “disputed” tags on headlines has been considered, with research suggesting that false headlines are viewed as less reliable and trustworthy if they have been tagged with a general or specific warning (Clayton et al., 2019). Although this strategy undeniably has potential, Clayton et al. (2019, p.18) suggested that an “unintended spillover effect” may consequently occur as a result of placing general warnings on headlines, whereby the public may become more skeptical of the accuracy of headlines that are true. This emphasizes how the growing presence of ‘fake news’ online is encouraging a significant decline in trust in journalism, as emphasized by Allcott and Gentzkow (2017).

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Arguably, there will be challenges associated with any strategy that the media may implement to tackle the ‘fake news phenomenon.’ For example, De keersmaecker and Roets (2017) suggested that the cognitive ability of individuals plays a substantial role in correcting and weakening the impacts of false information. It has been argued that “the influence of incorrect information cannot simply be undone by pointing out that this information was incorrect” (De keersmaecker and Roets 2017, p. 110). Through considering this statement, it can be implied that the proposed solution of placing general and specific warning tags on headlines, as suggested by Clayton et al. (2019), may be ineffective in changing attitudes toward false information. The study found that false information obtained by those with lower levels of cognitive ability had a persistent negative influence on their attitudes, with this negative impact remaining even after being told that the information read was false (De keersmaecker and Roets 2017, p. 109). Using the conclusions from this study, it can be suggested that media organizations should place a greater focus on gatekeeping and filtering out any information or content which is identifiably false, rather than attempting to tackle the problem after the false information becomes viral online. This remains crucial, especially during periods of political debate where individuals are vulnerable to their political views being manipulated as a result of the consumption of fake news articles. During the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, there was “a database of 156 election-related news stories that were categorized as false by leading fact-checking websites” (Allcott and Gentzkow 2017, p. 212). It has been argued that the circulation of these false news stories had a significant influence on the views and opinions of the electorate (Allcott and Gentzkow 2017; McNair 2017).

Another significant point to consider is that the enforcement of laws and monitoring regulations, despite their efforts to control the dissemination of false information, can have negative impacts on society. A key example is how the introduction of an anti-fake news law in Singapore has restricted freedoms (Wong, 2019). The aim of these proposed laws and enforcements is to tackle the actions of trolls, fake accounts, and bots that mimic human behavior and may contribute towards the practice of astroturfing. Punishments include “penalties of up to S$ 1 million (£563,000, $733,700) and a jail term of up to 10 years” (Wong 2019). With rapid technological development, however, threats of punishments and fines may prove to be ineffective. For example, McNair (2017, p. 81) emphasizes the difficulty in finding the publisher responsible for the spread of false, fabricated content. Troll factories and other publishers of ‘fake news’ can gain access to technology and tools which aid the sustainment of their anonymity (McNair 2017, p. 81). This suggests that identifying those responsible for publishing ‘fake news articles and misleading content will not be a quick and simple approach to combatting the presence of false information intended to deceive.

Reflecting again on strategies undertaken in Singapore, Wong (2019) emphasizes how civil liberties may be threatened through the controversial policing of online platforms. Restricting the free flow of information is an approach that should not be taken lightly. As suggested by Brummette et al. (2018, p. 511): owners and founders of social media should make an effective practice out of using their platforms in a way that creates a productive democratic society.

In conclusion, it can be argued that there is not one set definition for what can be classified as ‘fake news.’ There is, however, a mutual agreement that ‘fake news’ can be defined as the intentional publication of false information (Allcott and Gentzkow 2017; McNair 2017; Brummette et al. 2018). It is also apparent that founders of media organizations should place a greater focus on gatekeeping. Filtering through content displaying misleading information and clickbait should be undertaken as, according to De keersmaecker and Roets (2017), attitudes and opinions can be misled by false information even after the reader realizes that this information is incorrect. Using a greater range of fact-checking and verification techniques would enable the use of fact-check tags and general warnings on headlines, as suggested by Clayton et al. (2019), to be more effectively implemented. After comparing a range of potential strategies, it can be suggested that there is no straightforward solution to addressing the challenges arising from the fake news phenomenon. As reflected in the enforcement of laws and monitoring in Singapore, Wong (2019) emphasized how restricting the free flow of information can inhibit personal freedoms and social media use. Consequently, there is the potential risk that media organizations and social media platforms may use excessive control in an attempt to resolve arising problems from ‘fake news’ (Wong 2019). This may exacerbate the situation as a result.

Bibliography

    1. Allcott, H. and Gentzkow, M. (2017). Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 31(2), pp.211–236.
    2. Brunette, J., DiStaso, M., Vafeiadis, M. and Messner, M. (2018). Read All About It: The Politicization of “Fake News” on Twitter. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 95(2), pp.497–517.
    3. Clayton, K., Blair, S., Busam, J.A., Forstner, S., Glance, J., Green, G., Kawata, A., Kovvuri, A., Martin, J., Morgan, E., Sandhu, M., Sang, R., Scholz-Bright, R., Welch, A.T., Wolff, A.G., Zhou, A. and Nyhan, B. (2019). Real Solutions for Fake News? Measuring the Effectiveness of General Warnings and Fact-Check Tags in Reducing Belief in False Stories on Social Media. Political Behavior, [online] pp.1–23. Available at: https://www.dartmouth.edu/~nyhan/fake-news-solutions.pdf [Accessed 27 Apr. 2019].
    4. Crispin Cooper (2017). Could an auto-logic checker be the solution to the fake news problem? [online] The Conversation. Available at: https://theconversation.com/could-an-auto-logic-checker-be-the-solution-to-the-fake-news-problem-73223 [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019].
    5. De keersmaecker, J. and Roets, A. (2017). ‘Fake news’: Incorrect, but hard to correct. The role of cognitive ability on the impact of false information on social impressions. Intelligence, 65, pp.107–110.
    6. Jang, S.M. and Kim, J.K. (2018). Third person effects of fake news: Fake news regulation and media literacy interventions. Computers in Human Behavior, [online] 80, pp.295–302. Available at: https://www-sciencedirect-com.abc.cardiff.ac.uk/science/article/pii/S0747563217306726 [Accessed 27 Mar. 2019].
    7. Manzi, D.C. (2019). Managing the misinformation marketplace: the first amendment and the fight against fake news. Fordham Law Review, 87(6), pp.2623–2651.
    8. McNair, B. (2018). Fake news : falsehood, fabrication, and fantasy in journalism. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.
    9. Wong, T. (2019). Singapore's fake news law policies chats and online platforms. BBC News. [online] 9 May. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-48196985 [Accessed 27 Nov. 2019].
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Fake News as the Biggest Challenge: Thesis Statement. (2023, October 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/fake-news-as-the-biggest-challenge-thesis-statement/
“Fake News as the Biggest Challenge: Thesis Statement.” Edubirdie, 09 Oct. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/fake-news-as-the-biggest-challenge-thesis-statement/
Fake News as the Biggest Challenge: Thesis Statement. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/fake-news-as-the-biggest-challenge-thesis-statement/> [Accessed 20 Apr. 2024].
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