What is “fake news”? That’s a question a lot of people are asking these days. It’s also a question a certain President-Elect SHOULD be asking before he takes office; although, I’m sure he won’t.
As a journalist, this phrase makes me cringe. News, by its very definition, cannot be considered “fake”. It can be sensationalist, maybe sometimes biased, but not fake. “Fake News”, therefore, isn’t news at all. It’s just garbage on the Internet or the tabloids that way too many people are gullible enough to think is true.
The Internet is big. Anyone can create a free website and start to write, upload photos, and create video. They can even make their site look like that of a news organization. It’s not that difficult. This fact is an amazing thing, but it does create a few problems. Who do you trust? What information is real and what is, as we call it now, “fake news.”
This is where journalists and news organizations come in.
It is their job (and mine) to sift through all of the false claims, tall tales, and outlandish stories that exist on the Internet. A journalist will confirm facts with numerous, legitimate and reliable sources. Their work is then edited by a number of people, including fact-checkers. If, in some cases, those sources and fact-checkers are not available, a news organization may use the word “unverified” or “alleged” until such time where the facts can be confirmed. This ensures transparency. This does NOT mean the information is falsified by the media with a nefarious purpose.
Cue President-Elect, Donald Trump.
At a press conference on Jan 11, Trump refused to answer a question by CNN veteran reporter Jim Acosta. This happened after CNN reported that intelligence officials briefed Trump on an unverified dossier alleging Russian officials had compromising information about Trump.
“Your organization is terrible,” he yelled when Acosta tried to ask him a question. “You are fake news.”
And that was it. The term was redefined.
Since then, Trump has used the term “fake news” to describe every story he’s had an issue with. Most recently, on Jan. 18, he tweeted a news story from NBC.
Essentially, the term “fake news,” once used to describe a false story on the Internet that suddenly started trending to the point of believability, is now used to label a media organization is wrong and untrustworthy.
What Trump hopes to do is perpetuate this myth that the media is out to get everyone — that they would do anything or say anything for a headline and a few clicks. This is outrageously insulting, not to mention a dangerous sentiment for the future President of the United States to make. The job of the media is to keep people of authority accountable; to inform the public about what is happening in the world; and to shed light on important issues that require attention.
Just because you don’t agree with a story, or you don’t like what it says, doesn’t make a story, or a news organization, “fake.” It also doesn’t mean it’s wrong — unless you can show the data and prove it.
To throw this phrase around haphazardly, without forethought or understanding, creates real problems for the media and destroys its essential purpose. I’m guessing this is exactly what Trump wants — but the public should be wary.
It’s good to be critical. It’s smart to question whether something described as fact is, in actuality, true. However, it’s just as important to question the way politicians attack the press and the real message they are trying to send stop from spreading. The President-Elect’s use and abuse of “fake news” is another of his bullying tactic to deflect and suppress non-Trump generated news. The public should not allow this abuse to continue.
Freedom of the press is an essential part of a democracy. As Barack Obama, soon to be former President of the United States, said to the media in his last press conference Wednesday, “You’re not supposed to be sycophants, you’re supposed to be skeptics. You’re supposed to ask me tough questions.”
“Democracy doesn’t work if we don’t have a well-informed citizenry, and you are the conduit through which they receive the information about what’s taking place in the halls of power. So America needs you and our democracy needs you.”
The use of the term “fake news” to delegitimize the media is an affront to that very concept — and it’s up to every single citizen of North America to ensure politicians don’t take advantage of this term for their own gain.
What do you define as “fake news”? Let us know in the comments below.