There has been much said in various media platforms in recent months about “Fake News”.  Fabrications about the news, however, are not something confined to recent times.

Media caters to its audience:  Newspapers, local radio and television, and other periodicals have traditionally catered to the interests of the local or regional marketplace that they serve.  Local news often features killings, bad accidents, crimes, and stormy weather that local subscribers and viewers are most interested in.  Sports sections usually favor home team coverage and the most viewed sports over lesser viewed ones.

Embracing ideologies:  Individual acceptance of ideologies is the key component of what motivates a person to watch a certain news outlet or read a certain news publication.  Much of what shapes a person’s ideology comes from other people who are close to the person such as friends, relatives, and co-workers.  This forms a group mentality towards ideological happenings and group reinforcement of the ideology.  This group reinforcement serves to block out or limit any news contrary to the ideology thereby giving news organizations the incentive to provide ideologically satisfying news whether it is true or not.

Stopping fake news:  In certain parts of the world the effort to stop fake news is usually aimed at the supplier.  But audiences often will watch what they want to see and turn the news off or change venues if it does not fit the receiver’s perceptions.  As long as the demand for ideologically satisfying news remains, policies restricting the supply side for publishing fake news will only risk curtailing free speech and inadvertently restricting legitimate news.  Studies have shown that the viewer/reader does not necessarily possess a blank slate with regard to what the news is and often has a preconception of which news would be of interest.

We’re watching and reading fake news all the time:  Since the earliest days the entire media industry has been financed by advertising—a form of propaganda and…a form of fake news.  Great steps have been made to identify and classify advertising as it is presented into the media.  Viewers and readers are usually able to separate advertising from news content either in newscasts or other types of programming and publications.  Further, there are standards that must be adhered to for advertising in major media outlets.  But could standards and remedies also be developed towards doing the same with fake news that is deliberately falsified?

Summary:  In a society that prides itself and guarantees free speech deliberate falsehoods in any media source are generally not welcome when they are disguised as genuine news reporting.  Any credible effort to require social media, itself a form of publication, to police itself as to the proliferation of deliberate falsehoods would be widely appreciated and a step in the right direction.  Laws attaching responsibility to social media outlets themselves for damaging posts within their publications regardless of their original sources are a necessity.


Sources:  Free exchange | Truth hurts, The Economist, April 7th 2018.

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