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Debunking Fake News 

Words by Kelila Ritchie

 

I don’t know if it’s the journalist in me or if it’s just me in general, but I absolutely cannot stand the idea of everyone mistaking misinformation or blatant disinformation as fact and running with it. Honestly, it’s become increasingly difficult for me to be an active member of the social media community for this reason. It’s frustrating to see so many stories and posts being written as gospel and “Terri Jo from the Westside” just wrote it because she just woke up with this on her mind with absolutely nothing to back up her claims. And I know a lot of you will say “well, social media isn’t for facts but for opinions … blah-blah-blah,” but where do we draw the line between stating how you feel on a subject vs. sharing supposed “facts” to support your opinions.

 

As Americans, I believe it is our civic duty to stay up to date on news especially when it directly affects our communities. But honestly, it’s becoming a lot harder for us to be able to differentiate between what’s real and what’s fake. This is where we allow ignorance to creep into our minds because many people don’t take that extra step into researching information that is being fed to us. Simply put, we are just too trusting when it comes to accepting information as fact. Instead of taking the time to look into the subject, we would much rather a 30-second TikTok that gives us a little preview of the issue. In the current social and political climate, this does the general public a terrible disservice. An awful disservice. Fake news makes it hard for people to develop a clear stance on social and political issues. Fake news breeds confusion and misunderstanding, that is her jam.

 

So why do we continue to be victims of fake news? One reason for this according to Matthew Asher Lawson, an assistant professor of decision sciences at INSEAD Business School, is because conformity and social pressure are key factors in the spread of fake news. We want to be socially correct, whether that is a conscious or subconscious decision, keeping in mind some people do not share fake news with malicious intent but because someone in their social circle also shared it.

 

We are living in a time where inaccurate news and the sharing of inaccurate news are detrimental to our everyday lives. From elections to pandemics, people need to have the most accurate and up-to-date information to make the best decisions for themselves. Historically speaking, fake news was typically put out by people in positions of power to foster a certain belief or support a specific position. What makes it “fake” news is it is intentionally false. Social media has created the perfect breeding ground for fake news and more recently, AI (artificial intelligence) deep fakes. Bots are used to spread propaganda by people who are paying to do so. 

 

During a time where real information was crucial to the wellbeing of citizens, we saw a drastic rise in fake news. The COVID-19 pandemic is an amazing example of how fake news polarizes whole communities. There was a lot of misinformation surrounding the spread of the illness, vaccines as well as what communities were impacted the most. Also, many Americans don’t like — or want to “accept” — news that doesn’t align with their own personal beliefs. This is how we fall into the category of disinformation or information created to deliberately mislead. But it is also our responsibility to go the extra mile into doing our own research. 

 

A study conducted by the University of Southern California found habitual users of social media shared six times more fake news than occasional or new users. In a separate experiment, USC researchers found that the habitual sharing of fake news is not inevitable. Yes, this is something that 100% can be avoided if we, as a union, cared enough. Researchers also concluded that effectively reducing misinformation would require restructuring online platforms that promote and support its sharing. 

 

And then there is artificial intelligence. AI has been one of the scariest things to me recently. There are whole images and videos that portray a story that literally never happened. I personally fell victim to the AI gimmick when photos of Donald Trump being arrested hit Twitter. These things look so real, it’s actually terrifying. But also, honorable mention to the pictures of Steve Harvey being chased by an alligator. Anyway, back to the not so funny uses of AI, deep fakes are used for the same reasons as fake news. 

 

According to “Nevada Today,” deep fakes are used to purposefully spread false information or they may have a malicious intent behind its use. These are particularly harmful as women are disproportionately affected through revenge porn. Even scarier, it is incredibly easy to create a deep fake. Again, it is of the highest importance that we acknowledge the dangers of artificial intelligence and how this goes hand in hand with the spread of fake news. As a young adult, crafting her views on the world and establishing values, I prioritize fact checking. As should the members of my online community! It simply isn’t enough to trust what is being told to me. Likewise, it is irresponsible for me to spread information that just isn’t true. 

 

Now is not the time to make jokes or false images about important political events. We are living in a time where being in the know is imperative. Propaganda is at an all-time high. This isn’t a time where anyone can create a video full of “facts” to further push their agendas. But unfortunately, that’s just where we are at with it. So here are some tips to help you decipher fake news from real news: 

 

  • Be suspicious. Assume all of the facts are not there. Google is free: Use it!
  • Consider the source. Check the validity of whatever or whoever you are reading from, also consider if this could be propaganda. 
  • Check the date. Make sure it is recent; old news is not always relevant to current events. 
  • Acknowledge your own biases. Your personal feelings on a subject can easily affect your opinions and judgment.
  • Fact-check and fact check again. Compare reports between reputable and respected journalistic outlets. Discuss subjects with the people who are involved. Ask a librarian if you have to.
  • Ask yourself if this is too silly to believe. If it is too outlandish, it could be satire. 

 

I have given you the keys to rise above fake news. The spread of fake news can reap harmful consequences on entire communities, can tarnish reputations and threaten societal stability. Take the extra five minutes to do your own research and form your own opinion based on facts. It is totally OK to not agree with everything your social media inner circle agrees with. Having your own information and actual facts to be able to quote when you need them and knowing you are speaking from a place of truth is one of the most empowering feelings, in my opinion. Stand for something or fall for anything. 

About Kelila Ritchie

Kelila has dedicated her teenage years to advocating for injustices around her and in the world. Journalism is more than just a passion for her but a calling. She is dedicated to keeping her community informed and spreading awareness about social inequalities. Catch her on the beach any given weekend!