The spotlight on fake news became especially bright in the days and weeks after the American presidential election in November, after many real news outlets began questioning the effect falsified articles had on the vote’s outcome.
Just last week, failed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton slammed what she described as an “epidemic” of fake news circulating on social media networks.
How did we get here?
“We’ve moved away from the days where we had mainstream media … that actually had standards. If you were reading it in your local paper, you knew what those standards were,” said Chris Waddell, associate professor of journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa. “Now anyone can be a journalist, anyone can create a news organization, and we’ve also got it being distributed by Facebook.”
The issue with getting news through Facebook, Waddell said, is the consumer often has to work a bit to find the source of the information, which many people don’t.
Building on Waddell’s insight, veteran journalist and author Susan Delacourt said one reason fake news stories are proliferating is because people don’t need to actually be where something is happening in order to report on it.
“It’s possible to report on Parliament Hill, for anyone to set themselves up, watch TV, have conversations on email and Twitter with politicians from far, far away from here,” she said during an appearance on The West Block with Tom Clark.
“It’s very easy to lie on social media, and it’s very easy to make up facts when you don’t have to stare down the people you’re writing about.
During Clinton’s speech last week, she appealed to those listening to her speech to address the issue, saying fake news has real consequences on real people – such as the recent shooting inside a Washington pizza shop, where a gunman opened fire while trying to find out more about a Clinton conspiracy theory. No one was hurt during the incident.
Conspiracies are just one brand of fake information that often circulates online and through social media.
There are also outright lies, distortions, stories that are partially true but play to a certain group’s prejudices, said Waddell.
There’s little chance anyone will able to completely stop the flow of fake information, Delacourt said.
“We’re not going to be able to slow down information. I think we … can only hope the citizens are going to demand that they get real news,” she said.
As for the real media outlets, they can’t stop fact checking and correcting the record, Waddell said.
“News organizations, large, small, new and old, can’t let up on their obligation to keep pointing out what’s factual, what’s not and to call out lies as being lies,” he said. “The accountability role of news organizations, new and old, can’t change, and shouldn’t change.”
With files from Global News’ Nicole Bogart