Why fake news makes idiots out of their readers

"Unfortunately, the social media world enables thought without thinking, and words without thought. Liking and sharing without even reading the content has become the norm."

  • 12/16/2016
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Why fake news makes idiots out of their readers

Photo: http://static.snopes.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/snopes-fake-news-sites.jpg

With the US Congress moving to investigate allegations of fake news invading America, we are likewise asked to pause and reflect on whether or not such a phenomenon exists or has penetrated our news fare.

Likewise, popular social media site Facebook announced that it will be rolling out tools to control spamming and fake news.

Yet the reality is that online news is as old as the internet, with mainstream print publications taking the lead by establishing their online editions. 

With the advent of video sites, and blogging and youtube in the mid 2000s, online citizen journalism was born. Even ABS CBN would feature news and video by “Bayan patrollers” who, at the scene, can give visual information when their own camera crews are unable to document the events.

Social media sites have amped up the existence of online news, enabling “engagement” and creating communities of readers and followers that digest content from daily news feeds. Write your news with the correct, juicy angle, and your article goes “viral,” meaning, it is shared more than a thousand times within a certain amount of time, often, a few hours. Accuracy and fairness is less important.

Unfortunately, the social media world enables thought without thinking, and words without thought. Liking and sharing without even reading the content has become the norm. If in the 80s and 90s  we were captured by soundbites on the ‘boob tube” called television, we are today enamored with the headlines, on news sites and Facebook pages.  

Even mainstream journalists are often caught getting their sources from online news. The “quotes” that they attribute to President Duterte, for instance, often come not from taking actual recording of what he says, but reflect the interpretation of the reporters covering the event where he supposedly uttered those words.

Notice that foreign journalists quote the words taken from other articles, no matter how inaccurate they may be, especially when they are translated. The resulting feast on the quote may actually be chomping on the wrong interpretation.  Fake news? Maybe. Biased, definitely.

What it all does is inflame, and force people to like and share. This is precisely the kind of clickbait journalism that has emerged.  Fake news shares wrong information meant to achieve a certain end, often an increase in engagement that enables the media company to gain a huge share of the internet users market. That is good for their advertisers. 

It has little regard for fact and preys on the bias of a certain audience, that is more likely to share or distribute the article, since is conforms with the readers’ own bias. Do mainstream publications stand guilty of such? Read them and you are likely to agree.

In contrast, online news sites like Thinking Pinoy, and yes, Sass Rogando Sasot and Get Real Philippines have given us a fair share of data to parse the “fake news” and biased reporting we are often subject to. While they may have their own “haters,” they feed the need of many for depth that we do not get enough of. 

So, what makes the “mainstream news” different from “fake” news sites? Little, depending on the publication. Which leads us to note that the kind of news you like to read is a reflection of your own bias. Ultimately, you have a choice. After all, we are a democracy. 

However, being a democracy is its own peril, as it allows us to think less or more of a certain phenomenon. Choice allows us bias, and permits us to be less discriminating and critical. Since we are not forced by the State to think in a specified way, or analyze at a certain depth, we again have a choice.

Democracy is more than #justsyaing. It is saying what matters and pushing all of us, from whatever stripe,  into thinking, and doing. An active polity is desirable, and information that pushes action even more so.  

As commentators with followers, leadership in getting the thought is important. You cannot provide all the answers nor can you pretend to be experts at everything, but you can encourage your readers to probe beyond what you say, or portray. The buck should not stop with you. It should empower them to look further, read deeper and think faster.