The Fake News Phenomenon Writer, Joshua Griffin, gives his take on understanding and avoiding misinformation

In Download Live Wire, Opinion/Editorial by Joshua Griffin

“Fake news” is the buzzword that has dominated much of the current political main stage. Both mainstream and alternate media have been using this term, though many Americans are unfamiliar with what this term truly means. Even political figures have repeated the term in their speeches and on their social media. So, what is it exactly and how can you, the observer, avoid and understand it? Fake news is false information that is displayed as truth and is designed to misinform the public.

One of the most notable and recent examples was the “PizzaGate” conspiracy theory, that was pushed out by fake media sites and then spread across the Internet through hearsay. The theory falsely claimed that within the emails of John Podesta, former chairman to the Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign, there contained coded messages. The messages alluded to a child sex ring along with satanic rituals and sacrifice, that key members of the Democratic Party engaged in. Fake media sites spreading the theory also claimed that this was engaged in at various restaurants, but most notably referenced was the basement of the Comet Ping Pong in Washington D.C.

The popular pizza place received critical acclaim in the past, but because of the false information spread by fake news, they would then receive harassment and negative publicity. Most drastically on Dec. 4, 2016, a shooting would occur based on this fake news story, putting the lives of innocent people at risk. The story has highlighted the dangers of fake news, and has made the public more aware of a serious issue. What can be done to avoid fake news, and how can we distinguish what is reliable and what is not?

First, do not rely on hearsay of any kind when informing yourself on current events. Not just spoken word, but also information that is shared and spread through social media such as Twitter and Facebook. Hearsay is a massive actor in the role of helping spread false information published by alternate media sites, both well-known and not. It is critical that when informing yourself of current events, that you rely on your own research gathered by credible sources and cross-check to ensure consistency.

Secondly, recognize the difference between reliable sources and unreliable sources. Unreliable sources utilize attention-grabbing headlines and may only post one story with the intention of making it viral. The goal of an unreliable source is to spread misinformation through underhanded ways, unlike a more reliable source that simply wishes to convey information as accurately as possible. Fake news wants people to believe bold claims, often with the intention to smear an individual or organization.

To contrast, more reliable sources have often established a reputation. Even sources as biased as the Huffington Post and Fox News are far more reliable than fake news sites like Breitbart and Liberal Daily. A great way to go in depth for information is to read more academic journals from think tanks like, “The Heritage Foundation” or “Progressive Policy Institute”.  Also, cross-checking information for consistency on fact checking websites like “Snopes.com” and “Politifact” is essential to ensure that reports in the media are accurate.

But whether you gather news from the mainstream or independent media, there is a way to ensure the avoidance of fake news. Consistency is key in regards to the future of media, and all reliable sources must root out the unreliable while also holding each other accountable. To the observer in current events, fake news seems to be a problem that has always occurred but has never seemed to be addressed. Now that the problem has been brought to the focus of the political atmosphere, it is up to observers like you to help the uninformed public avoid the fake news who will attempt to mislead them.