Breaking News: What’s Real? What’s Not?

By Jeff Bray

I’ve dubbed the year just ended – 2016 – as “The Year of Fake News.”

As a former radio news director and UPI editor who believed news was the hallowed ground of truth and fact, I find myself devastated these days. What happened?

It’s not that fake news is something new. Falsified accounts of “Nessie,” Bigfoot, alien invaders and more have been around for ages. But, today, there’s definitely been a shift in how we receive news…and who reports it.

The Pew Research Center reports roughly four of every 10 Americans gets his or her news online – Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, etc. The number jumps to about half of all those under 30. That makes anyone and everyone with an iPhone, computer, etc. that accesses the web a reporter. Many time anonymous; always without an editor. Whatever they think, believe or make up – that’s what’s news. The sad part? We – meaning the American public – are eating it up.

I don’t know about you, but I was shocked to learn fake news was more widely retweeted or shared during the run-up to the presidential election than actual news. Even more shocking – fake news is becoming big business, giving people like Jestin Coler more reason to create fabricated accounts that are passed off as real reporting.

One such story – that Hillary Clinton and others operated a child sex slave operation out of a Washington, DC, pizza restaurant – spread like wildfire across Facebook. It grabbed national attention when a believer showed up with a gun to “investigate” the business. Bullets flew but, luckily, no one was injured.

Fake news is dangerous. It destroys both truth and fact. Some even contend it determined 2016’s presidential election. The question, though, is what are we going to do about it? Reddit banned the “Pizzagate” conspiracy board from its site. Facebook made changes to help stamp out fake news. It’s allowing users to flag content as “fake,” but it won’t delete the material, citing its belief that people must be allowed their freedom of “voice.” One of the prices we pay for being a democracy.

Perhaps the biggest concern is not that fake news is a thing, but that people are so willing to accept and spread it. I suppose it’s natural that we all want our beliefs ratified…but, at what cost? Are we willing to become a nation of lemmings, doomed to follow whatever we see on social media?

News is meant to be critical, not a pacifier. It’s supposed to make us think, and often re-adjust our values. News media are supposed to be the fact police…not fact producers. How do we bring that back as a valued resource instead of criticism?

If you’ve got an answer…I’m listening.

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