Fake News: What It Is, How to Spot It, and The Future of Media in Montgomery County

Fake News Boy Walking
Image via Perkiomen School.
by Garrett McKenzie ’24.
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by Garrett McKenzie ’24, Perkiomen School

Fake news: a term that is seemingly becoming more common, and that is being used to describe more and more media outlets. It is a term used by all political sides to fuel rhetoric, and one which usually sets most people on edge, ready to argue their favored side’s talking points.

What is it really though? How can one spot fake news, and what does this new development mean for the future of media? 

First of all, the simple definition: fake news is information that is false. It may be false for numerous reasons; a lack of available evidence, a poor understanding of the topic, and outdated information may all result in the creation of fake news.

However, the increasingly common reason is due to the deliberate manipulation of facts to suit a cause, something that numerous political figures and organizations have utilized and exploited to an alarming degree. This plays on a key flaw of human nature: we want to be right.

Humans almost intrinsically will seek validation for their most closely held beliefs and ideas. In such a divided political climate, our party or ideological identity has become one of our core identifiers.

Furthermore, increased access to the internet means a wide breadth of sources is available for access. This leads to one of the roots of this problem: if you find a source that says something that you disagree with, you don’t need to search very far to find one that validates your opinion. In essence, the world we live in now can provide you with whatever you want to see, regardless of whether or not it is true. 

The good news is that often there are key identifiers that can help one spot incorrect information.

Manipulated dates, fabricated photographs, and missing or untrustworthy citations are just a few of the ways that one can spot misinformation. However, the most effective way to see how factual an article is, is to compare it to other articles. Often, something that is fact will be corroborated by multiple reliable sources, and usually even by people who have different opinions on the matter.

With fake news, articles will come from one solitary source that has little to no reputability. Checking this against other sources can show where discrepancies lie. Eyewitness accounts of an event also can lend extra credibility, though if many people are saying one thing and an isolated eyewitness is saying something else, their account could possibly be called into question. 

Given all of this, it is difficult to imagine that the future of journalism and information will be completely unaffected.

Indeed, major news sources have been decried for being proponents of fake news, though sometimes the accusations themselves are false. This has led to one of the most impassioned and divisive arguments of current times: free speech. In the United States, free speech is a constitutional right, though now the debate is over how far that privilege extends.

Political philosopher Brian Leiter argues that completely autonomous free speech becomes dangerous when it distorts facts. In an interview with Vox.com, Leiter states: “And then take something like climate change, where there’s a constant disagreement about the facts with so-called skeptics who insist, in the public sphere, that the science doesn’t really establish this. These are fact disputes, not value disputes.”

On the flip side of the debate, many argue that regulating any speech whatsoever is a violation of the First Amendment, and thus is unconstitutional and illegal.

The added wrinkle of the internet’s looming presence also begs the re-evaluation of what one can and cannot do online, where one’s anonymity is easier to keep. Sites that allow for completely uncensored chatting and content have faced legal backlash due to their ties to hatred, bigotry, and violent events.  

This is a long way to come from the topic of fake news, but the connections are obvious and incredibly consequential. The issue of fake news is undoubtedly one that will continue to plague the sharing of information in the modern age, especially as the use of technology continues to grow.

Perception has become subjective, and facts are no longer taken as truth; these are the consequences of fake news.

Where does this stop, and what will be lost along the way? The answer, unfortunately, is as unclear as the truth can be when consuming news. 

Find more information at Perkiomen School.