The explosion of online and social media platforms has brought tremendous benefits. Open, honest and timely sharing of information can break down barriers, subvert government oppression, and lead to more free and liberated societies around the globe. Social media has provided us with a personal look at the tragedy in Aleppo while giving hope to long lost relatives and parents a thousand gingerbread house ideas.
The power each person holds in the palm of his or her hand has tremendous possibilities; but with that, also tremendous responsibility. Online and social media have given new life to “fake news.” Once isolated among tabloids in the supermarket check-out, online fake news is so prevalent and so influential that PolitiFact named it the “Lie of the Year.”
Following her defeat to President-elect Trump, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton blamed her loss, partially, on the prevalence of fake stories. President Obama echoed similar concerns, saying recently, “if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems.”
The “Pizzagate” conspiracy, an absurd story alleging that a Washington, D.C., pizza place was a front for a child molestation ring, led a North Carolina man to bring and fire a gun during his “investigation” of the community restaurant. Obviously, #Pizzagate represents an extreme case of the impact of fake news, but the fact remains, fake stories, misinformation and “news” backed with little-to-no-sourcing are driving public opinion and action more than ever before. While the blame is shared among many factors including the ubiquitousness of social media, “reporting” from non-reputable journalists, and readers’ lack of critical thinking; in the end, made-up “facts” are shaping the public’s perception of reality.