Misinformation and fake news are destroying democracy

Where are you getting information? Are the sources you receive news from considered biased? Are they credible sources? How often are you doing research on topics of interest to you? Do you take new information and assume it is fact without further inspection? At a time where there are hundreds — perhaps thousands — of “news sources” available to the public, it is important that we ask ourselves these questions. Fake news has never been more prevalent, and worse, more popular than now.

It is important to remember when reading news online, websites are making money on these articles more often than not. Many — like the National Report, which boasts the claim, “America’s #1 independent news source” and publishes headlines like “(President) Barack Obama wants to be a ‘private sector gun grabber’ when he leaves office” — are not ethical. They do not care if they are making money off of false or true information. These websites crave attention and advertisement revenues.

Not only should we remain vigilant about the information itself but also how it is presented. There are ways to present a topic in such a light that it becomes biased. Or, an entire entity can be biased just based on the type of information it chooses to broadcast. For example, studies from Pew Research Center show that very rarely will Fox News choose to criticize a Republican in office. On the other side, it would be difficult to find MSNBC criticizing a Democrat.

According to Jennifer L. Hochschild’s and Katherine Levine Einstein’s book “Do Facts Matter?” a democracy falters when most of its citizens are uninformed or misinformed, especially when misinformation affects political decisions and actions, or when political actors create and spread misinformation. In other words, that article you shared from a false news site is not just annoying to your Facebook friends. On a much larger scale, these articles themselves and false information in general is threatening our democracy.

The question now is: what do we do about false information and the problems it presents? We stop allowing it. Stop reading and sharing information from sources lacking credibility. When reading the news, be sure to seek information from multiple, credible news sources like The New York Times, the Associated Press and Forbes. Stop taking everything printed, posted and shared for fact. We must question what we read and research beyond our own beliefs.

It is also important to call out misinformation when we see it. Contrary to what President Donald Trump believes, endorsing blatant lies is unacceptable if we want to live in a successful democracy. Just because something supports one’s opinion does not make it factual. Leave opinion pieces and biased information to opinions columns and blogs. Fake news, misinformation and “alternative facts” have no place in our news sources and these types of articles deserve to be flagged and called out.

I have lost count of how many times I have simply typed into Google the title of an article only to find out everything within it was completely false. I am embarrassed for my friends who share articles, blog posts and videos without reading, watching or researching the information presented. I have had to check myself several times before sharing articles. Again, just because something fits in with one’s own opinions does not mean it is worth sharing or believing.

There are many sites and news sources that provide credible, unbiased or minimally biased information. The Hill is an excellent source for finding information on Congress and credible news in Washington, D.C. The New York Times, while slightly liberal, is the closest publication this country has to a national paper. Many topics are covered daily for The New York Times. The Washington Post, while somewhat left-minded is also a great source for daily news. The Economist and C-Span and USA Today almost always remain unbiased. When watching news on television, opt for BBC or NBC News for an unbiased take on breaking news.

Paying attention to local papers is also an efficient way to keep up to date with local news. These papers do a good job of reporting on both sides most of the time. Papers such as the Galesburg Register Mail, McDonough County Voice and the Peoria Journal Star are great choices for local, up-to-date news.

Sites and pages to stay away from are important to consider as well. While I enjoy reading the Huffington Post, it should never be one’s sole source of news or information because it is incredibly liberal. Buzzfeed, while entertaining, is also very liberal and not always factual. Occupy Democrats is also biased; just look at the name. The same can be said of sources such as Vox, Breitbart and InfoWars, the latter of which publishes stories about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton being a demon and a leader of a satanic cult.

Newly equipped with this information, I hope we can all do a better job of avoiding and calling out misinformation. Sharing and believing fake news is embarrassing. It is an insult to our intelligence to believe such rubbish without doing more research and reading first. More so, it is a danger to democracy. This country deserves better than “alternative facts,” and I hope if we can agree on one thing, it is this: If we all did our part to get rid of misinformation, fake news would become a thing of the past. Flag Facebook pages posing as news sources. Block hyper-partisan websites criticizing one party while praising another. Research what you are passionate about. Stop believing information simply because it is printed on a fancy site or in a paper, it is not all true.

 

Courtney Dalton

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