The number of fake news stories being published is increasing, with motives of marketing or diverting the attention of society. How will this inflation of a lack of facts affect America or the world in the future? Will citizens’ trust lie in the words of the government, or the journalists?
Since the invention of the printing press and even beforehand, journalists have been seen as the watchdogs of society. Honest and moral citizens devoting their lives to informing society of facts and stories the public otherwise wouldn't know, holding all accountable in the process.
The prevalence of the internet has made it simpler to play the role of a journalist. The emergence of blogs and sites, where seemingly anyone can post their opinions, has contributed to fake news. However, exaggerating stories to gain viewers is something that has been around for over a hundred years, and was put into effect by two of the most famous journalists of all time.
At the time, the exaggeration of facts wasn’t considered fake news, but Yellow Journalism. To see how Fake News might affect the future it's important to see how it began in the past.
Joseph Pulitzer purchased the newspaper New York World in 1883, while William Hearst bought the New York Journal in 1895. These two prominent figures in journalism were in a heated battle for subscriptions and to gain the eye of the public, which eventually would lead to posting articles that weren't proven true, in efforts to gain viewers.
Yellow Journalism began when both papers began exaggerating stories about the sinking of the USS Maine off the coast of Cuba in 1898.
Both Hearst's and Pulitzer's newspaper published rival stories blaming Cuba and the Spanish for the sinking of the USS Maine, riling up the public by printing quotes such as "Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain." This was printed for all of the country to see, even though it was never proven that Spain was responsible for the sinking of the USS Maine.
Once these exaggerations and lies reached the public, citizens demanded retribution. This retribution came in the form of the Spanish-American war in 1898.
“If the war against Spain is justified in the eyes of history, then ‘yellow journalism’ deserves its place among the most useful instrumentalities of civilization,” said James Creelman, reporter from the New York World.
This is a perfect example of how fake news and misinformation can be detrimental to a society, and how a misinformed public can put pressure on the government to act.
Some motives for the publication of fake news may be to troll (one who posts a deliberately provocative message with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument) the public, to attain power by controlling knowledge, or for marketing and capitalistic purposes.
With internet advertisement being lucrative due to the number of online sites and online viewers, many publication sites choose to take a page out of Pulitzer's and Hearst's book by posting controversial and sometimes false news stories to gain citizens’ attention.
Many of these online publications gain revenue from advertising firms for every website visit, and the easiest way to gain visits is to post shocking and eye popping news, whether it's true or not.
However, often times the publication or online advertisers are not aware of what ad will be posted on which site. This is due to the complexity of online advertising, which often depends on what sites one previously viewed.
Google and Facebook, amongst other companies, are trying to combat this problem by pulling their ads from fake news sites; however, it's easier said than done. A number of companies claim difficulties in identifying all websites that publish fake news, therefore making it more difficult to address the problem. Difficulty in addressing the problem is not an excuse all are willing to accept.
"Maybe it's true they didn't know. Maybe it's true they didn't care, but it's not fair going forward for that ad company to say they still don't know," said Dan Greenberg, chief executive of ad-software firm Sharethrough Inc.
Large brands, such as AppNexus Inc., Kellog Co. And Allstate Corp., have pulled their ads from right-winged Breitbart News for posting articles that were either false or involved hate speech.
Of the number of sites known for publishing controversial fake news, Breitbart may be the most well known. Partially because Steve Bannon, the assistant to the president and White House chief strategist, was recently the executive chairman for the controversial publication; and partially because of some of their offense headlines, such as:
"Birth Control Makes Women Crazy and Unnattractive."
"The Solution To Online Harassment Is Simple: Women Should Log Off."
"There's No Hiring Bias Against Women In Tech, They Just Suck At Interviews."
"Data: Young Muslim In The West Are A Ticking Time Bomb, Increasingly Sympathizing With Radicals, Terror."
These brazen articles that attack women, gays, and minorities are detrimental to society and its future, and must be stopped. The danger of a generation growing up not being able to decipher the importance and difference between facts and false claims can prove to be catastrophic.
What has caused worry amongst a number of American citizens is the fact that the White House's chief strategist and member of the National Security Council, Bannon, helped create such a fake news site. Now that fake news has made its way into our government, many are wondering how this will affect our future over the next four years.
Misinforming citizens, once known as Yellow Journalism, has been coined and popularized as fake news by President Donald Trump.
The 45th U.S. president has taken a focus on the media; however, this focus may not be beneficial to journalists and society as a whole.
Trump has recently banned such outlets as New York Times, Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed News, Politico, CNN, Daily Mail, The Guardian, BBC and The Hill from White House news briefings. This is something that has never been seen in a country that promises free press, and something that is also unconstitutional.
The Associated Press, USA Today, and Time magazine didn't attend the briefing in protest, according to theBBC.
Though these major news outlets were denied access, Breitbart News was granted access to the briefing.
In an era of change where many do not know what direction the country is headed, the press is needed to be an unbiased portrayer of truth, guiding citizens to make their own informed decision.
President Trump's opinion differs on whether the press is here to help the people or hurt his political success, deeming the media as the enemy in the process.
"I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news, it’s fake, phony, fake… A few days ago I called the fake news the enemy of the people and they are, they are the enemy of the people, because they have no sources, they just make them up, when there are none,” said Trump at CPAC 2017.
This is creating a major division amongst citizens, not knowing whether to trust their president or to trust the media when it comes to the truth. If one judges who to believe off of their credibility, the choice will be much easier to make.
Trump has been on record lying blatantly to the face of Americans, including on February 27th, 2017, when he told reporters, “I haven’t called Russia in 10 years.” Trump and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin engaged in a phone conversation on January 28th, 2017.
Here are just a few lies, or fake news, told by president Trump over last couple of months.
"Terrorism and terrorist attacks in the United States and Europe have gotten to a point where it's not even being reported," Trump said. There has not been a terrorist attack to go unreported in the states.
Trump said Hillary Clinton "wants to let people just pour in. You could have 650 million people pour in and we do nothing about it. Think of it. That’s what could happen. You triple the size of our country in one week." These numbers are a huge exaggeration; even with open borders, it is highly unlikely for the U.S. population to triple due to immigration, or that Clinton wishes this to happen.
"Our African-American communities are absolutely in the worst shape they've ever been in before. Ever. Ever. Ever," Trump said. Trump claims that things are worse now for African-Americans, even worse than the time during slavery, directly after slavery, and even during segregation in the Jim Crow south. That's hard to believe, partially because it is not true.
"The murder rate in our country is the highest it’s been in 47 years," Trump said. The murder rate in 2015 (15,696) is 9,000 murders less than this country’s peak in 1990 (24,703).
"If you were a Muslim, you could come in, if you were a Christian, it was impossible," Trump said. In the 2016 fiscal year, 38,901 Muslims were admitted into the United States. In that same year, 37,521 Christians entered the United States. This clearly debunks Trumps claims that it was impossible to enter this country if you were a Christian.
Honesty is something that is expected from the leader of our country. Though politicians are known to bend the truth, I don't think we've ever seen a president like our 45th before.
According to Cap Action, during his joint session speech on February 28th, 2017, Trump lied 51 times in 61 minutes. However, Trump blames the media for presenting fake news to the public. This creates a divide between those who devote their lives to telling the truth and the government whose words are frequently not rooted in fact.
In an age where the media is presented as the enemy, citizens will need to take it upon themselves to search for the truth and not accept it out of the mouth of just anyone. The American people and people of the world will have to fact check, allocate sources, and keep their ear to the ground to attain the truth.
To have a generation growing up without knowing the importance of fact, or believing the truth doesn't have to be told at all times, will hinder this nation and the world. Journalists have been the watchdogs of this society for hundreds of years, which trumps our president’s time in office thus far.
If one would have to choose between the words of the president or the words of the journalists, the choice is theirs, but with open eyes it's an easy decision to make.
As Thomas Jefferson once said, "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."