Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Keep news where it belongs

Social media is for clickbait, not hard news.
Hamza Butt/ Flickr

By this point, we’ve all heard the term “fake news” quite enough, so I promise to use the term as few times as humanly possible. There have been many takes on the causes of the toxic epidemic as media outlets scramble to attempt efforts to solve this problem, but the medium in which news is shared is unfortunately being overlooked.

The proliferation of the fake news epidemic began after the election and has come to encompass everything under the sun that is untrue, misleading, fraught with errors or simply inconsistent with your views or political agenda.

Clare Wardle of First Draft News said, “The reason I don’t like the phrase now is it’s used as a term to describe everything.” Wardle speaks insightfully when she says that the spread of the overly discriminatory and blanketing term “fake news” is “actually hurting the credibility of otherwise credible news outlets.”

It is vital to note a distinction between journalistic error and bogus propaganda falsely purporting to be legitimate news. Currently, the relationship between the media and the public is in a decrepit state, no one knowing where to turn for consistent reliability, not wanting to be fooled by bogus news. But people seem to be overlooking the origins of this issue. Where are all these false stories coming from?

Today, social media giants like Facebook are struggling more than ever to solve the omnipresent “fake news” epidemic, and these companies should be placing more energy into correcting this problem. However, it is important to examine the source of this plague. Aside from the easily correctable mistakes some news outlets will make during the journalistic process, information presented by reputable news sources is accurate and valuable. To put it differently, no one was reading about “Pizzagate from the New York Times. The truth is, false and misleading information has gained a platform in the form of social media and softer news sites — one that is expansive and reaches a prolific number of people.

A stricter screening system should be put in place for what deserves to be called news by the general public. Sites that we would consider to traditionally be “soft news” sites, containing reports on human interest stories or arts, entertainment and lifestyle, have encroached on the realm of hard news with disastrous results — Buzzfeed being one of the biggest offenders. While Buzzfeed has increasingly included more world news and events, these stories are placed beside anecdotal and superficial “celebrity news” snippets about Kim Kardashian or the selfie kid at the Super Bowl. Don’t get me wrong, I want to know what Golden Girl I am (Blanche, obviously) just as much as the next gal, but topical quizzes about television show characters should not be placed directly beside articles on Russian interference in the election.

Social media has also taken on a similar role, biting off more than it can chew with harder news stories. Snapchat has recently undertaken a Buzzfeed-esque formatting spread, juxtaposing articles on the birth of Kylie Jenner’s baby with articles from the Economist. It seems that there has been little thought put into the ramifications of interspersing valuable and accurate news with fake, misleading or clickbait articles. What message does it send to a younger generation when they learn to conflate the importance of this week’s most insightful tumblr posts and the Syrian crisis?

I’m not saying clickbait is a bad thing. There are times when I really want to explore more about myself by discovering which cheese matches my personality. Topical pop-culture articles are indeed entertaining and have their value within social media. But it is time to ask ourselves whether vital and pressing news belongs on social media, or on soft news sites which lack the journalistic reputation of trustworthy outlets.

One solution I hear people frequently touting is for the people to simply be more thorough in fact checking what they read and consume. This is valid, and it is indeed time to rethink our media diets in a lot of ways. If people screened their news intake as thoroughly as vegans screen food labels at the grocery store, there would likely be less people running around thinking Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer.

While this is a worthwhile practice and individuals should certainly be screening what they ingest more thoroughly, there is a body of dedicated individuals and organizations who dedicate their careers to delivering the most accurate, relevant and informative news to the general public. They’re called journalists, and they hate fake news even more than you.

It is time to put our trust back into the institutions that have reliably provided news to the public for decades. Though it is vital to tighten journalistic standards and be watchful for fake news, reputable news sources must be trusted to do their jobs, and we should be looking to them for our hard news. You shouldn’t look to Facebook or Snapchat for your news but if you must, check to see if it came from a reputable outlet.

Isobel McCue is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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    NITZAKHONMar 15, 2018 at 8:59 am

    If the enemedia wanted to get the trust of the American people back, they could start by having their “I hate Trump” tattoos removed. >90% negative coverage.