Clete Wetli, Contributor
As Facebook faces a Congressional inquiry and public relations nightmare into their sharing of private user information and the dissemination of fake news, we must determine what exactly makes a news story fake. It’s not enough to simply claim that a biased or slanted piece is fake and it’s also dangerous to haphazardly label satire and other forms of written expression as fake to suppress circulation.
News is broadly defined as the reporting of recent noteworthy or important events. It is supposed to convey the facts and the relevant, salient details of a situation that has changed. Pieces are published or broadcast based on their potential to engage news consumers and that decision is based on a subjective opinion of the piece’s newsworthiness or importance. Obviously, opinions and editorials are commentary on news, but in today’s media landscape they are often infused in the reporting of news. Opinion injected into news may be annoying or distasteful, but it doesn’t necessarily render news as suddenly fake. It may make the presentation of the news slanted and may influence consumers to feel a certain way about it. When this happens in its most extreme form, it is propaganda.
Fake news is a deliberate attempt to make a news story appear true when the writer or publisher knows that it is based on lies, hearsay, or that pertinent facts have been purposely omitted. This can be treacherous as stories develop quickly, change dramatically in substance, and when the totality of facts is not immediately known.
Although the methods and forms of news products has changed, it is worth remembering that this conflict is certainly not new in our society. Revisiting the legacies of William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, and Joseph Goebbels are, indeed, illuminating when studying the effects of mass media and deliberate bias in shaping public opinion. Fundamentally, mass media communication has always been a deliberate decision between a sender of information and a receiver. In this discussion, both bear culpability in the arena of “fake news.” Senders, or publishers, have a responsibility to accurately label their content. Receivers, or consumers, bear the task of determining the validity of content and, more importantly, must accept the idea that no one source should be blindly accepted as definitive. Consumers need to do their research. Publishers need to be ethical and carefully label content to avoid consumer confusion.
For example, twentytwentynews.com is clearly left-wing commentary and it’s labeled as such. The moniker of “news” in the title is appropriate because it deals with changing, noteworthy current events and it’s made immediately clear to readers that the news is presented through editorial comment. No one comes to this site expecting a “just the facts” presentation devoid of interpretive insight or commentary. Just in case there is any confusion, the editor and mascot is a hipster Yorkie, which should serve as a big clue to those might mistake it for, say, CNN or The New York Times. Twentytwentynews.com doesn’t pretend to be something that it is not and, in fact, celebrates its dedication to liberal ideology and political policy. For example, when we’ve had fake satirical interviews between the Yorkie and public figures, it’s not masquerading as truth and may God help you if you are confused in any way. If you are, we’ll have Franklin, the Yorkie editor-in-chief call you to clear up any misunderstandings.
In a world where we can’t trust corporate publishers to be forthright about their labeling of content and suspect that news stories may be slanted for political purposes, it is up to consumers to do their research and step out of their algorithmic, pre-determined comfort zones. However, after you fight off nausea due to watching a few minutes of Fox and Friends to learn how crazy people think, you can always come back to twentytwentynews.com for some mental healing and reading material that is significantly higher than our president’s preferred fourth-grade vocabulary level.
The battle over defining “fake news” is just one skirmish in the modern media war. The only way to win in this war is to seek higher truths, to critically read dissenting opinions, and to remain skeptical and analytical.
Remember, if it walks like an orange spray-tanned, narcissistic, bullying, grifter ignoramus, if it talks like an orange spray-tanned, narcissistic, bullying, grifter ignoramus, if it tweets like an orange spray-tanned, narcissistic, bullying, grifter ignoramus, it’s probably Donald Trump and don’t let delusional apologetic conservative blow-hards with orange-tainted lips tell you any different.