The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Saturday April 17th

Column: It's time to call out fake news

DTH Photo Illustration. After students returned to campus in August, COVID-19 cases/clusters quickly rose, attracted national attention surrounding UNC's failed reopening.
Buy Photos DTH Photo Illustration. 60 percent of Americans tend to skim over headlines rather than reading articles, leading to a misunderstanding of the true news when commonly combined with clickbait.

A quick check of the television, your phone or even the radio will provide you with sensationalist headlines that bear minimal resemblance to the contents of the article. The headlines of modern news articles now hark back to the days of yellow journalism, while the contents remain firmly rooted in the systematic, modern approach of fact reporting. 

Mainstream media have begun to use provocative titles to draw in readership to fight unreliable news sources for attention. But misleading clickbait headlines are often serious topics that need addressing. 

For that reason, increasing the media literacy of the general public should be a priority for schools, and rooting out fake news should be the priority of media platforms on which misinformation spreads.

People need to read beyond the headlines, or they will miss the actual nuance of the news. Unfortunately, 60 percent of Americans tend to skim over headlines rather than reading articles, leading to a misunderstanding of the true news.

Consciously or unconsciously, the mainstream media has been influenced by social media and the rapid spread of fake news, leading to headlines that can compete with the fake and satirical headlines. According to Statista, an average American spends 12 minutes reading newspapers per day, whether online or in print. 

With such little time, what could anyone possibly read? The answer is, unfortunately, nothing of substance. The majority of readers will only pick up headlines or, at most, the first few lines of an article. This is proven by many individuals on social media websites who are upset by the headline of an article when they didn’t even read it.

The competition between real news, fake news and satire on social media is real, and social media corporations are responsible for not reigning in their product. A study conducted by MIT in 2018 that showed that false information spreads much more quickly than truth on Twitter, and found that falsehoods reach 1,500 people six times quicker, on average, than a true story does.

However, as we have seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, social media corporations have the ability and resources to tag information as potentially misleading, and also redirect the individual to a proper source on that topic. Social media platforms should use their extensive reach to provide proper sources from a variety of viewpoints. 

Fake news on a particular topic should be redirected to both CNN and Fox News or, even better, more neutral sources such as The Associated Press and Reuters. This would not only prevent the spread of fake news but also allow people to see opposing viewpoints.

In addition, there has been a sharp downward turn in trust in mass media, from 55 percent in 1995 to a low of 32 percent in 2016. This distrust in mass media is harmful to everyone, as the populace has no “trustworthy news” and the media organizations are not trusted.

For those who know where to look, media organizations are clear that they follow set standards of ethics and journalism, but they need to make it clearer for the reader. Third-party verification for assurance that the article was produced with real, fact-based journalism might be necessary for the near future to distinguish between real and fake news.

The best way to address this issue is to distinguish between fact-based news and opinion, and to clarify and disprove false information. Schools, starting as young as elementary school, should educate students on news.

For fact-based news reporting, journalists should follow the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics or a similar comprehensive guide on how to conduct proper reporting. Seriously consider if your sources follow this code of ethics before accepting what they say wholeheartedly. Opinion articles should be clearly marked as such, and fake news should be flagged by all as a detriment to society.

@jc_leser

opinion@dailytarheel.com

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