The Daily Illini

Navigating fake news through awareness

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Navigating fake news through awareness

By David Lee, Columnist

Irresponsibility by celebrities, news outlets and Twitter users has butchered the Nick Sandman story, leaving space for many valid accusations against mainstream media. From this, we can further understand the nature of “fake news.”

There is some merit to accusations against Covington Catholic and the students who were caught making less than civil remarks; simply put, there was immaturity from the other parties involved.

The Covington Catholic fiasco is telling of the nature of fake news and all its nuance. With President Trump in office, he has championed the terminology of fake news, and most Americans agree it is a problem. The issue arising for America is the division on what exactly fake news is.

We need to examine our own media consumption to discern the truth. One way to facilitate this process is to distinguish the different definitions of fake news.

It is unclear to what extent fake news on Facebook affected the 2016 presidential election. What is clear, however, is how Facebook has made fake news profitable and prevalent. How can an individual hinder this epidemic of false circulation and lies?

Recognize your echo chambers and humble yourself. Anybody is susceptible to false information and should be cautious about the potential to slander or to be wrong. When our media exposure is slanted via social media, this only perpetuates.

In the political science department, I get to talk to many opinionated students who seem to know how to end world hunger. My message for them is this: It is okay to not have the right answer. It is also okay not to have a strong opinion.

Testing bold theories, like free tuition for all or universal basic income, is without a doubt welcome. However, we can all learn from taking a look at how we view the world and the possibility that we can be wrong.

This is also important when considering not only our echo chambers, but also the presence of news that is purely fake. The actual fake news is journalism that is intentionally fabricated, usually for political reasons or monetary gain. Headlines like “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement” is sensationalism. No one will argue that stories like this are fake news by every parameter.

The best way to combat this is to be thorough with your research and avoid the temptation to confirm your biases. The world does not need your immediate opinion and you do not need to make one. Jumping the gun will either make the truth more prevalent or will proliferate lies. Facebook exacerbates this process on top of the creation of echo chambers.

Consider lastly Trump’s definition of fake news. Trump is critical of the “mainstream media” because it is critical toward him. The alleged slanted reporting against Trump is a reasonably sensible form of reporting, considering the nature of Trump’s presidency.

What is not sensible is the overly leftist and zealous interpretation of world events that the left is often accused of. Covington Catholic is a strong example where the left was partially correct, but embarrassingly wrong and unapologetic, which left them to be scrutinized by everybody.

This attitude against the slanting of news and liberal “fake news” is reflected well in the content of Swedish YouTube personality, PewDiePie. His “Pew News” segments receive millions of views and focus on topics such as drama on YouTube and identity politics.

PewDiePie’s political appeal comes from his blasting of outrageous claims made by the mainstream media (even though sometimes the media is clearly correct in its criticism) which is representative of how many Americans feel about politics.

To the right, the claims of the left often come off as pretentious, self-righteous, passionate and sometimes racist. PewDiePie’s popularity in political commentary does not stem from his ability to influence his audience. He is popular because he is voicing the sentiments people have against identity politics.

Simply put, there are three “fake news” concepts to be aware of: echo chambers, actual fake news, and Trump’s “fake news.” By utilizing this terminology, we are better prepared to combat the erosion of democracy.

David is a junior in LAS.

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