At this point, people are aware that fake news exists. Their problem with it is twofold. First, people aren’t sure how to identify fake news. Second, it has rattled their trust in any source of news or caused them to build extremely loyal affinities for select sources. 

The fake news problem has always been a chicken-or-the-egg debate. Questionable information sources found an opening because journalism struggled to self-regulate. And journalism struggled to self-regulate because of the ever-present demand for questionable information.

“23% say they have shared a made-up news story – either knowingly or not.”

Mitchell, Barthel & Holcomb, Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion

And that leaves us in the state we are today — a lack of trust in all news but also, too much trust in  the wrong kind of news.

People Love Fake News

Article after article and study after study shows (not surpringly) that people love to share false information. The reasons are complex and ever-changing. Regardless, it’s created an environment where social media users don’t know what to believe and thus find themselves spreading false information at an alarming rate. 

A study by Pew Research Center reveals the depth of this confusion. 

The Biggest Problem

The biggest problem with fake news, including those that decry all mainstream media, is that it equalizes all information and eschews all reader discretion. David A. Graham tackles this concern in his article The Real Problem with Fake News.

“One of the biggest risks often imputed to the current media environment, in which audiences can pick and choose news outlets that agree with them, is that people will become more and more siloed, cutting themselves off from information that they don’t like or that contradicts their prior assumptions.

The Pew study suggests that fake-news panic, rather than driving people to abandon ideological outlets and the fringe, may actually be accelerating the process of polarization: It’s driving consumers to drop some outlets, to simply consume less information overall, and even to cut out social relationships.”

David A. Graham, The Real Problem with Fake News

Indeed, the most concerning thing about the proliferation of fake news is that it has caused people to distrust everything. Leading up to the 2016 election, I found myself debating a family member about the gender pay gap. Instead of arguing about the policies surrounding the issue, my family member insisted the the gender pay gap didn’t exist at all. Indeed, he said that the .gov websites were being manipulated by “the liberals.” He insisted the published numbers were part of a conspiracy between the IRS, employers, Democrats, and feminists. 

“If people stop reading a website, because it’s peddling conspiracy theories, that’s good news. If they stop consuming any coverage from mainstream outlets like CNN or The Washington Post, because they believe a story is biased, or because the president has labeled it fake news, that’s less positive.”

David A. Graham, The Real Problem with Fake News

It’s hard to have a productive conversation with someone who sees memes and government reports as equivalent in terms of accuracy.  

You Can’t Avoid the News

Making a similar argument, On Point with Meghna Chakrabarti recently covered this phenomenon in their segment News Fatigue? Why More People Are Avoiding News Consumption. Her guests discussed the twofold problem facing news consumption. First, people simply don’t trust the news. Second, they don’t see it as something that adds value to their lives. 

However, you really can’t completely avoid the news. You can simply be less informed about the big issues when big things happen. And studies show that more informed people who are both digitially savvy and trusting of mainstream news outlets are more capable of spotting fake news than those who choose to remain ignorant. 

Younger Americans also are more “digitally savvy” than their elders, a characteristic that is also tied to greater success at classifying news statements.

from Younger Americans are better than older Americans at telling factual news statements from opinions

Have you ever shared fake news?

I believe that by working together, we can improve the landscape of both news and content. If you have ever shared fake news, I’d love to hear your story. Why did you share? When did you realize the story was fake? Your experience can help others understand and do better.

To share, leave a note below or follow me on Instagram.

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