Lately, the decline in ad revenues, digital vs. mainstream media, citizen journalism and other "trend" topics about journalism took a back seat with the Trump and Republican victory in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. Fake news is all people are talking about these days and not without good reason, even though some of it is just about shifting blame.On Dec. 15, Pew Research Center published a survey with the title of "Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion." Although the demographics focused on adults in the U.S., the numbers clearly indicate the issue has become a serious problem. And with the mainstream media focus on the issue, many people have realized it despite possible political reasoning. The survey says, "About two-in-three U.S. adults (64 percent) say fabricated news stories cause a great deal of confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events." That is quite a high number, especially considering that the sentiment is prevalent across various demographics, like different income and education levels, and even party affiliations, according to Pew.
However, despite this general consensus on fake news being a problem, most U.S. adults are confident about their ability to spot fake news when they see it. In fact, only 15 percent say they lack confidence on whether they can tell a fake news story apart from a genuine one with any amount of certainty.
There were quite a number of questions in the survey, but let us look at one more and leave the rest for when they are more relevant. According to a Pew survey, "About a quarter (23 percent) say they have ever shared such stories, while roughly equal portions say they have shared made-up news knowingly and unknowingly." So that means 14 percent shared fake news while they were aware about its status although their reasons varied. According to the article, it was "because they want to spread misinformation, to ‘call out' the stories as fake, for the amusement value, or for some other reason."
With that last quote, I would like to emphasize the amusement factor in their spread. In that regard it is important to make a distinction that eludes some when it comes to fake news. While the problem of fake news has recently become a main concern in the media because of the possible serious results that can occur and its usage as a propaganda and manipulation tool, a benign form of fake news has been around for quite some time. Satire news has been a popular form of entertainment both abroad and in Turkey. The Onion news is one such example and similarly Zaytung has been operating in Turkey in a similar capacity. We can even say shows like the Daily Show or the Colbert Report have some form of satire news as well.
The distinction between satire news and fake news lies in the way they present themselves along with the goals. Satire news makes no qualms about being false. It might not advertise it, but it is clear to all parties involved that the news they are reading is purely for entertainment purposes. Although journalists should still be on their guard, since there have been numerous cases where such items were used as genuine news sources. News rooms must be aware of them especially when looking for sources from abroad.
Fake news on the other hand is not for amusement. Its titles are not prepared with a laugh in mind but rather the items deliberately aim to be sensational. Unfortunately, this very sensationalism makes readers all the more susceptible and journalists are no exception. From time to time journalists fall prey to the allure of a sensational title and if the fake news source is from abroad, that makes confirming its validity or falsity all the more difficult; so they simply run with it. As the fake news finds a place in a mainstream media website, it spreads to others. Even if it is removed an hour later, the rate of circulation and exposure of the readers is irreversible. This also makes the exposed readers more susceptible to other fake news, by blurring the lines between what is fake and what is genuine.
Considering that fake news sources already possess quite a large reader base that share their stories, the least we can do is be extra vigilant to filter the truth from lie instead of just zeroing on a sensational headline, especially since the media continues to pressure tech giants such as Google and Facebook to crack down on these fake news sources.