There’s nothing new about fake news, but it is a growing problem now that people are turning to social media for their information.
Fake news — what we might call gossip — is spread by word of mouth, poison pens (and presses) and digitally. And the party lines have expanded exponentially.
News may be fabricated to get attention, to dupe people into wasting their money or to influence the real world. The intent can be malicious or benign, but it is potentially dangerous.
Consider Comet Ping Pong Pizza in Washington, D.C., a fun, kid-friendly neighborhood pizza restaurant that has outdoor seating, bands and ping pong. Then fake news websites claimed it was the home base of a child abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton. The story was not true, but the business owner and his employees have been harassed by outraged people who thought it was. One man went to the restaurant with a .38-caliber Colt revolver and a loaded Colt AR-15 rifle, which he fired two or three times in the restaurant.
Traditional sources of news are still the most reliable ones. Journalists have a stake in getting the story right. They have a reputation for telling the truth about themselves as well as others. So when a reporter makes up a story, as Stephen Glass did at the New Republic in the 1990s, the truth does come out — also revealed by reporters.
Non-traditional sources have value, so it’s good to hear that outlets such as Google and Facebook are taking measures to curb the spread of fake news.
Consumers of information should always consider the source.