The Media Today

The media today: Is fake news here to stay?

July 19, 2017

It’s been nine months since Donald Trump was elected, and I can’t believe we’re still talking about fake news! Not the fake news alleged by Trump in the media, but the original fake news, the fake news that uses social media to spread lying headlines and misleading stories. When Trump’s win was partly attributed to the popularity of fake stories denigrating Hillary Clinton, I thought “fake news” was just the new “hanging Chad.”

But fake news has persisted as a problem—in part because of Trump’s bloviation, but also because of the centrality of social media’s role in its dissemination. When, in December, Facebook changed its tune and copped to the potential influence fake news had on the election, the status of fake news as a threat was solidified. Facebook launched a variety of efforts to curb the spread of misinformation on its platform. Now, we are beginning to assess how successful those efforts have been.

In May, The Guardian reported that Facebook’s warnings were inconsistently applied, and in some cases ended up driving astronomical traffic to the worst offenders—a kind of media rubbernecking, perhaps. This week, Politico Europe reported that Facebook’s fact-checking experiments in Germany (the country is putting the most pressure on Facebook to disallow fake news) are too opaque to be useful.

Efforts to remove fake stories may be a Sisyphean game of Whack-a-Mole; as soon as you get rid of one, 10 more pop up. Another way to combat fake news may be to improve the credibility of existing content. Susan McGregor, assistant director for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism, advocates at CJR for verified digital signatures on news stories. While they can’t vouch for every fact in the piece, such signatures confirm the identity of the author and the time of publication. “Although the technical challenge is substantial,” writes McGregor, “it’s also one that is important to take on, as new organizations strive to rebuild public trust and set their work apart from that of content mills and fake news factories.”

For now, fake news lives on:

Other notable stories

Sign up for CJR's daily email
Nausicaa Renner is digital editor of CJR.