The effects of fake news on social media

Why fake news on the internet is a problem

Photo courtesy of via Creative Commons

Michael Barbuti, Author

In this day and age, social media dominates almost every aspect of people’s lives. They communicate with friends through it, share their actions throughout the day, and use it as a source of entertainment. However, social media is also used as a news outlet by millions of people everyday. This can be a good thing because it gets people news almost instantaneously and makes it easily accessible. What makes trusting these news reports difficult is that the source is not always reliable. Anyone can say whatever they want on social media, and if people choose to believe them lies can be spread across the internet.

One recent example of false news being spread through Social Media is a fake quote that was supposedly said by Donald Trump to People Magazine in 1998. Trump supposedly told People Magazine, “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.” However, there was never even an interview conducted by People Magazine with Donald Trump in 1998, and he most definitely never said that. On Twitter, this quote along with a picture of Donald Trump was retweeted over 906 thousand times.

Other than false information, often times outdated information is spread completely out of context on social media. People see a story from months ago that they assume is breaking news, and they spread this outdated and irrelevant information. An example of something like this happening is President Obama’s plan to permanently protect Planned Parenthood. President Obama moved to enact this plan in September, two months before the results of the election would be known. Even now, the plan has not gone into effect. However, this story resurfaced after Donald Trump’s victory in the election and many people saw it as retaliation from President Obama, even though it clearly was not. So this story was blown across many social media outlets with a lot of outrage coming from many people, regardless of the fact that the story was months old and had no correlation to the election.

Much of this fake news epidemic stems from people attempting to make money off of creating and spreading these false stories. Websites are made with fake stories displayed on them that incite interest in a certain type of audience, such as a Clinton or Trump supporter. Once these websites start gaining a lot of readers and viewers they start attracting advertisers. The owners of these websites are paid a few cents by Google every time an advertisement that is embedded on a website is seen or clicked on. This means that there is a lot of money to be made by the owners of successful fake news sites.

One way that the owners of these fake news sites draw in readers to their websites is through these social media websites. They create Facebook pages or Twitter accounts that advertise the stories on these social media outlets. These posts will often have links to the story on their website, making it easily accessible to interested readers. This is yet another way social media spreads unreliable sources across the internet.

This problem of false news is gaining a lot of national and international attention. Many world leaders, such as President Obama, are bringing this problem to the forefront of the public eye, along with many news organizations. Also, several social media outlets such as Facebook and Google are creating and enforcing new regulations for their sites to help prevent the spread of fake news stories via their platform.

President Obama said, “If we are not serious about facts and what’s true and what’s not… if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda, then we have problems,” in a speech in Berlin on November 17th with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This alone shows how pressing this matter of false news is to the President.

This false news epidemic is sweeping across the internet and gaining power. It is clear that it will continue unless something is done to stop it. Many believe that it starts with educating the public on how to spot fake stories or unreliable sources. That way, people will know what stories online are reliable and which ones are not.