Fake news has become a bit of a buzz-word in the digital world, as it seems to get more and more difficult to sift truth from dishonesty. In this week’s trending searches, we see Sylvester Stallone taking the light one more time as he is surrounded by fake news that reports him walking towards it. In fact, the fake news spread so quickly, that the veteran action hero felt the need to make an appearance to prove to everybody that he is alive if not well. This is not the first time the death of an iconic figure has been wrongfully reported on, but at least this time the misleading information didn’t come from a ‘reputable’ news network. In this instance, at least, the results of the masses grabbing on to fake news were minimal at best, unlike the once premature announcement of Nelson Mandela’s death which even had a negative impact on the South African economy. There seems to be an obsession with fake news, it has been going on for a while and shows little sign of abating. Since the rise of social media mixed up the bag of information gatekeeping privileges in our society, even trusted news sources have been pulling information from dodgy sources and reporting on fake news as though it were real, as is consistently being commented on by the Trump administration in the USA, who have gone so far as to issue ‘fake news awards’ to a number of otherwise respected agencies. As we work through our time in the information age, we need to become a little savvier, selective and critical of what we read, where it comes from, and to what extent we enable it to be spread. The fact that news as blatantly unconfirmed as this can be spread with such ease, should be a little worrying, and frankly, insulting to our collective intelligence.
So How Did Our Action Hero Die This Time?
According to sources on Facebook and other social media channels, Sylvester Stallone recently passed away after a drawn out battle with prostate cancer. The clever writers even accompanied the article with an image of Stallone sporting a sickly look and thinning hair as proof. This comes after a number of hoaxes over the years have been trying to convince fans he is dead. In September of 2016, similar headlines rang that Stallone had been found dead in his home in the early hours of the morning. The difference being that the event in 2016 was not reported on by an amateur social blogger, but actually by CNN themselves.
This should be incredibly concerning for the average news consumer, since international news agencies such as CNN are our go-to places for news that we can trust to hold at least some truth to them. If CNN is neglecting to fact check their reports, then quite frankly it’s not our celebrities dying off that should worry us, but rather the integrity of our informants.
Countering the Rumours
The most recent epidemic of viral fake news got so out of hand that Stallone himself had to issue a statement to prove that he is still going strong. He light-heartedly released a statement on 19 Feb saying “Please ignore this stupidity… Alive and well and happy and healthy… still punching” on Twitter (which has ironically become a more integral source of information than some of our most trusted news agencies.
A Moment for Conspiracy
While in all likeliness the fake news came about as the brain-child of a bored blogger, there is always the chance that it served as a publicity stunt for the up and coming Rocky movie from which the images in the news report were pulled. Though going on the track record of social media platforms and even news agencies, I am more inclined to believe that Stallone and anyone responsible for his publicity, likely had nothing to do with it.
Fostering Honest, Integral and Unbiased News Reports
This brings to light an issue which our collective society has yet to find an amicable way of addressing, that of the reliability of the information we are fed from news sources which we are supposed to put our trust in. While there aren’t many societal side-effects of fake news reporting on the death of celebrities, instances such as this one should shake up the confidence we hold in our understanding of war, politics and global events as they are reported to us.
While many hold back this era of fake news in the opinion that it is undermining our understanding of the world, many others are seeing it as a bit of light shed on the condition of our news-sources as a whole. There is no real way to confirm whether or not fake news is a relatively new phenomenon, or if it has been a latent problem for longer than anyone (other than perhaps people like Rupert Murdock) could ever know.
Propaganda, hype, sensationalism and news seem to have always gone hand in hand, or at least have been since the rise of the internet and social media in our society. As media analyst and comedian, Charlie Brooker sees it, as the net began to take the market share away from news channels (particularly those on television), they had to step up their game and make news exciting so that it would still be consumed by the masses who are quickly moving away to online media.
Is what we are seeing in this instance just another case of sensationalism, or are media users to blame for sharing content without actually checking it?
US President Donald Trump, who is no stranger to being on the wrong end of fake-news, blames media houses like CNN, and has gone so far as to award certain agencies with a ‘Fake News Award’ in a bid to playfully get them to accept the responsibility of abusing their roles as informants.
It’s not True Just Because It’s Online
From the side of consumers, and each one of us is one, we need to be a little more careful of the way in which we consume media, particularly with web channels where most sources have very little integrity, knowledge and understanding to begin with. There seems to be a prevailing opinion that because something is online, it must be true. If everything you read on the internet came from an integral source, it would be far more difficult than it currently is for people to start their own websites. The same applies to television and radio. Remember that just because you heard it through sound waves or read it in a text, does not make it true.
Becoming a Critical Reader
All that we can really do in this regard is to become a more difficult audience to fool. We need to start consuming media with a critical and unbelieving eye. In short, we need to be less trusting of what we read. News sources should be cross examined and looked at in comparison to their competitors, while an active effort should be taken by readers to verify the information they are taking in. In addition to using more than one source to gather information, a critical reader should be extremely selective of the sources they choose to engage with.
Selecting a newsworthy source can be a little difficult, and requires readers to be well-versed in the format, structure and grammatical patterns that otherwise characterise news reports. With enough practice doing this, the reader should be able to spot irregularities such as spelling and grammar errors, incomplete information as well as the use of inappropriate terminology in a news-text. Wherever errors are found, one can assume that the editor of a news firm had nothing to do with letting it slip by them, and likely weren’t even involved in the process of publishing it. In short, it is probably fake.
Look out for evidence of sensationalism as well. You have probably read a number of articles in your life that have tried to report on events as though they came out of a spy novel or action movie. The bottom line is that news is not exciting and energetic; it is boring, official and should never read like a James Patterson novel. If it does, it is likely riddled with too much opinion and bias, or is simply not even worth taking in since it is probably an exaggeration if not completely untrue.
Contact Right Click Media
Here at Right Click Media we consider ourselves professionals in a range of online disciplines, and as such look forward to a future where online information sources can be used with trust and confidence, and therefor would like to see our affiliates growing in their ability to spot dodgy content wherever it may be. To find out more about our digital marketing agency’s services for SEO, web development and social media marketing services, give us a call or visit our website for further details.