By Barry Eitel
From the White House to newsrooms across the country to social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, no one seems to doubt that our country is under siege from fake news. The surge of misinformation surrounding the 2016 presidential election spread like an epidemic on social media platforms, and many claim it was influential in President Donald Trump’s surprise victory in November.
Since then, even the term fake news has been contentious. Although some on both the left and right, including Trump himself, use it to decry any media attention they disagree with, most academics and those in the media agree that fake news is deliberately false information based either on entirely made-up sources or unsubstantiated rumors.
The “Pizzagate” controversy earlier this year is a prime example of the impact of fake news—a group of internet commenters claimed there was a pizza-themed code in leaked Democratic Party emails that revealed a child-sex ring was operating out of a Washington, D.C., area pizzeria. Even though the evidence was completely fabricated, it inspired a North Carolina man to bring an assault rifle to the pizzeria to “investigate” the claims.
Fortunately, the man was arrested and no one was hurt, but the event showcased how hoaxes on the internet can lead to real-world implications, even violence.
Tech companies, media outlets and news consumers are now all trying to halt the rapid march of fake news. Ahead of a heated presidential election in France this year, for example, Facebook removed 30,000 French accounts that were apparently fake and appeared to exist simply to spread misinformation about the elections.
"Every platform should have an editorial team that's looking and assessing trending articles and giving information to users about certain sites and sources,” said Michelle Ciulla Lipkin, executive director of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, in an interview this year with Attn:.
Broadcasters, newspapers, websites and other news outlets are also doing their part in improving their standing with the public and combating fake news.
Of course, the most important part of a newsroom’s success is its staff, and it is the staff that is on the front lines of declawing fake news. A capable, motivated team whose makeup reflects the communities it serves is a definite strength. Another NAB Show New York session, Awareness in Reporting, on Oct. 18, will explore how broadcasters can bolster their staff with the best talent, with representatives from Cox Media Group sharing an approach the company developed that works.
And as the media environment continues to be contentious, with charges of fake news often being leveled at real news outlets, NAB and the National Association of Broadcasters Education Foundation now have a resource for reporters covering sensitive topics, especially race.
In April, NAB unveiled the Awareness in Reporting online toolkit to help journalists and newsrooms develop greater skill in covering race and racially sensitive news stories. “Local broadcasters play a vital role in our democracy as ‘first informers,’ providing timely, accurate and enlightening information to Americans about the topics affecting their communities,” said NAB CEO Gordon Smith. “At a time when issues of race relations have sparked new conversations throughout our society, NAB hopes this toolkit helps equip journalists with the expertise to cover news events fairly and accurately from all points of view.”