The novel “1984” by George Orwell takes place in a futuristic world where fake news — fabrications in the form of actual news articles — is used to mislead the public. Sound familiar?
Orwell describes the horrors of such a world, including censorship, threats and corruption. What’s apparent is that the world we live in today is creeping closer to this novel in many aspects.
Recently, the media has been re-exposed to this term during the 2016 presidential election, at first around stories and conspiracy theories put out to undermine Hillary Clinton.
One particularly notable example is “Pizzagate,” a conspiracy theory that Clinton and other Democrats were running an child sex ring under a pizza restaurant in Washington, D.C. The bogus story motivated a man to open fire there on Dec. 4, but thankfully, no one was injured.
Additionally, media exposure to fake news has grown exponentially ever since Donald Trump began using the term to express his disapproval for mainstream news outlets such as the New York Times and CNN. Interest in this topic soared especially after Trump’s first press conference as President-elect, according to data from Google searches.
There is a general consensus that fake news is dangerous. However, exactly what is considered fake news is something that people tend to gloss over and can be highly debated.
Bending the truth or omitting certain facts while campaigning in a presidential election or political movement is certainly nothing new; one may be more familiar with the term used to describe such actions — propaganda. Although propaganda is can be misleading, because it is not widespread and has not been problematic in the past, it has rarely been considered fake news.
As of late, however, fake news has become increasingly widespread.
Another story published last year stated that Pope Francis had endorsed Trump, and could be easily debunked. Yet it received almost 1 million reactions, shares, and comments on Facebook.
It seems logical that fake news regarding the election would have political motivations, but experts believe that this may not be the case, according to The Telegraph. In fact, many websites distribute fake news to generate clicks and earn money, rather than to support a political candidate.
Combined with a lack of regulations, the amount of fake news on the internet has exponentially increased over the years. Headlines are becoming more and more like “clickbait,” and information from particular sources is becoming less and less reliable.
Since Trump has taken office, yet another issue has arisen. It is no secret that Trump’s first few weeks of in the presidency have been far from ideal, and as a result, many online news articles are criticizing the government. By terming these criticisms “fake news,” Trump undermines the legitimacy of important issues such as global warming and the role of the Russian government in the 2016 election.
Additionally, many government officials are spewing false information. White House press secretary Sean Spicer lied about the number of people who attended Trump’s inauguration, perhaps as an attempt to make Trump seem more popular. He said that Trump had the “largest audience to ever witness an inauguration,” even though the crowd size appeared to be a third of what it was during Obama’s inauguration in 2009. This is clearly problematic — it is disturbingly similar to the lies that were spread in 20th century dictatorships in order for the ruling party to gain the approval of the population.
With so much falsehood and fake news and even “alternative facts,” as Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway terms them, it is crucial that we, the public, do not spread this misinformation any further.
The first step in reaching such a goal would be discerning truth from untruth and confirming that information is correct before relaying it to others. This can often be done using a simple online search and verifying that other reliable sources have agreeing information. For instance, simply plugging the headline of a story in a search engine would lead to multiple interpretations of the information and the ability to evaluate its verisimilitude.
In short, it is important to take headlines on the web with a grain of salt and sometimes less. But this is not just the media’s problem. It is everyone’s problem, and we all need to do our part to ensure that fake news does not become the new normal. Let “1984” be our warning.