The recent “news” that Facebook and Google have allowed the sharing of false media stories should really surprise no one. I’ve seen countless debates about what roles and responsibilities these sites now have to police the news. That’s largely driven by the fact that we, as a world of connected users, are increasingly using social media sites as our exclusive news source. Whether we follow media outlets by choice, are served sponsored content, or discover stories shared by our friends, people increasingly learn about world events via social channels first.
There has always been a certain amount of deception inherent in social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and, dare I say…Pinterest. I mean, can anyone really decorate for the holidays using cat toys, mismatched socks, and fishing wire?!?
There is much that is good about the opportunities to connect and converse across the globe and social media sites have advanced so many valuable, entertaining, and important issues. But with the good must come the bad, right? And now we are hearing about how many of these sites are plagued with the proliferation of fake news. No kidding. Whether it’s your sorority sister’s wonderful life, complete with perfect kids, a great job, and charitable works, or “Woman Gives Birth to Monkey” headlines, we all should develop a healthy skepticism that everything in your newsfeed is hardly representative or true.
I’ll date myself here and admit that I remember when there were news cycles. You know, morning news delivered via newspapers, TV, and radio to begin the day. That was followed by noon TV broadcasts, then came the evening news and your cycle culminated with the 11 pm news (if you were willing to stay up late and tune in). For those of us in the business of media relations, there were rules about when to pitch a story; when to break news; and when to provide updates based on these defined periods of time.
What began with dedicated cable news programs and then networks has evolved into an explosion of niche media outlets available 24/7 via the internet and further promoted by social media. Mainstream media is, frankly, a term that really doesn’t have a place in the modern news landscape.
Add to this the blogger-sphere, the trend for businesses to curate and share their own news, and the fact that anyone with a smartphone has a platform to report anything from anywhere, it’s no wonder companies like Facebook are not willingly jumping headfirst into the role of internet police.
As we have shifted from the traditional news cycles and outlets to the constant bombardment that comes from cable news, internet news sites, and social media, we seem to have created several realities – all existing in the same time and place. It’s equally fascinating and scary to me.
While most people can spot clickbait at 50 paces, there are ever more clever strategies being dreamt up as I type. What may not be as obvious to many people are more subtle differences that come from bias in coverage, which can be different from outright deception. The amount of fact-checking and verification that any given story on the internet has been exposed to will vary. Trusted news source? Depends on whom you ask. It’s very much a reader-beware (or as I prefer to call it: reader-be-aware) process.