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Sunshine Week: Media groups push back after fake news defined US elections

March 16,2017 08:41

A wildly partisan presidential election defined by deep ideological divides offered the perfect breeding ground for fake news sites to pander to readers craving information that affirms their views. And social media sites such as Facebook offered the ...and more »


The Baltimore Gazette had its share of scoops leading up to the 2016 presidential election. But one stands out: Every presidential race since John F. Kennedy’s election was rigged.That blockbuster story spread quickly across social media, with readers praising the Gazette for having the guts to report “the truth.”Today, the Gazette’s website no longer offers any news. Instead, visitors find a statement that reads: “Our apologies, we appear to be experiencing technical difficulties.”The site, like many that thrived during the contentious 2016 election, offered fake news – sensational, untrue tales like the Gazette story about an Atlanta police officer who gunned down a mother as she breastfed her baby.A wildly partisan presidential election defined by deep ideological divides offered the perfect breeding ground for fake news sites to pander to readers craving information that affirms their views. And social media sites such as Facebook offered the extra turbocharge needed to blast these stories across countless networks of friends who all share the same sensibilities.“We like to believe more of what is already in line with what we believe,” said Alexios Mantzarlis, director of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies International Fact-Checking Network. “And we tend to explain away, through motivated reasoning, stuff that doesn’t fit into that pattern.”A study conducted by the Pew Research Center in December found that 64 percent of Americans could not tell the difference between real and fake news. At least 23 percent acknowledged sharing a fake news story, either knowingly or not.Mantzarlis’ group and others want to fix that. He said his organization is creating a ready-made lesson plan for high school teachers to educate students about discerning fact from fiction in news, a solution widely viewed as the best long-term approach to creating news literacy.“Really now we need to teach about differentiating rather than searching and cross-referencing,” Mantzarlis said.Facebook also is offering help: Readers can flag content as fake news. Their complaints are passed along to the Poynter network, and to independent media groups that investigate the truthfulness of items (the first such groups to take part included ABC News, the Associated Press, FactCheck.org, Politifact and Snopes). Stories that flunk the fact check are pushed down in people’s news feeds, and anyone who wants to share the story is warned that it has been disputed.

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