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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Columns

More than ‘good journalism’ is needed to shred fake news


The criteria for deeming a news story “fake” is arbitrary and ranging from articles sponsored by private interests to coverage of events that have never occurred. 

I believe the prevalence of these meritless stories comes from the circus that was the media coverage of the recent election. Perhaps the bickering between articles covering ridiculousness versus ridiculous articles has spotlighted the issue of where news outlets get their sources and where readers find their news.

Print advertising’s drop in revenue has been cited for the proliferation of fake news stories. Newspapers with large print-based audiences are also the people’s go-to sources long before the digital age.

Although legitimate news sources continue to operate and innovate on web platforms, social media platforms and search-engine algorithms that promote trending articles often with no regard to credibility have marginalized them.

The U.S. is storied when it comes to fake news drafted to influence the sociopolitical atmosphere, but now there are plenty of media that report current events. Also, the volume of fake news is almost too large to track. 

A recent study from Stanford University’s History Education Group provided a bleak outlook on students’ mastery in differentiating articles referencing sponsored content and articles hosted on websites with native advertising.

Google and Facebook specifically faced criticism since their advertising policies spread less-than-reputable content. It’s hard to argue that these companies and their colleagues should act as gatekeepers to information in general, but fake news stories abuse algorithms for advertising dollars.

They are the social-media equivalent of spam from the late ’90s.

The idea that “good journalism” is the cure for the rise in fake news sites is practical, but only in theory. The wheel is already in motion.

I don’t believe any grassroots support for journalists will stop fake news from maintaining a sliver of the market shared with news sources that, for decades, have provided credible news. 

I believe that reshaping the business model for search engines and social media platforms is the only effective change that would mitigate this trend. Whether they should comply with specific safeguards is another story and may rest solely on the goodwill of those companies’ culture.

After all, if these articles generate traffic and revenue, why should a corporation be held accountable for stopping a phenomenon whose impact that is difficult to measure objectively?

Opinion columnist Nicholas Bell is an MBA graduate student and can be reached at [email protected]

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