It is tricky to be able to distinguish what is true or false in news stories, especially when one is surrounded by many kinds of information, without having clear background knowledge or the right resources to assess how accurate this information might be. It is essential to take the time to analyze news sources and be more critical when coming across a questionable source to prevent more confusion. It is important to define what fake news is, and also to discuss why the term ‘fake news’ has become more popular and what impact it has had on society, as well as discussing what critical thinking is, how it can be used to allow people to speculate the validity of different news stories and what can be done to reduce the damages, also how are people taught to be more cautious when reading news.
Information that is incorrect is being shared widely and on purpose, particularly through the modern method of social media and the spread of malicious bots. This has come to be known as fake news. Social media is good for spreading fake news, because “content can be relayed amongst users with no significant third-party filtering, fact checking, or editorial judgement.” (Allcott and Gentzkow, 2017, p.211). In the same article, research has shown that 62% of Americans get their news through social media, and that fake news is shared more than real news. (Allcott and Gentzkow, 2017, p.212). Furthermore, bots have been said to “Automatically post links to articles, retweet other accounts, or perform sophisticated autonomous tasks, like following and replying to other users.” (Shao et al., 2017). Not to forget, the second category of social bots, which is more dangerous, as it includes “malicious entities designed specifically with the purpose to harm. These bots mislead, exploit, and manipulate social media discourse with rumors, spam, malware, and misinformation”. (Ferrara et al., 2016). Because information does not need to be checked for being true, it is very easy for anyone to spread fake and false information, modern advances in technology and free social media platforms means this is cheap, fast and can travel around the world, especially with bots which are automated software that impersonates real life people as they generate and amplify stories and facts to spread fake news more realistically.
Fake news has been around for many years, but it has been spread more often nowadays due to political reasons, it was proved to have consequences beyond the political world and a devastating effect on other fields. Academic sources have confirmed this point, noting, “The massive spread of fake news has been identified as a major global risk and has been alleged to influence elections and threaten democracies” (Shao et al., 2017). Because it is a growing modern subject, there is not yet much academic research in to the long-term effects, or confirmation of the extent of its impact. However, there is evidence that fake news has been used to influence important events such as the 2016 US election (Strohm, 2016) (Gunther, Beck and Nisbet, 2018). Lyric Jain, the founder of Logically website, mentioned that false information has negative impacts by influencing the financial markets, affecting personal reputation, encouraging mistrust in media sector, facilitate extremism, and targeting different businesses or companies and other industries (Jain, 2018). This is dangerous because democracy needs voters to have accurate information, so they make good decisions. Fake news can confuse people, making them doubt the plausibility of certain news reports, which can affect decisions when voting for a politician. It is worrying that Trump uses the term so much about anyone that disagrees with him, because it further confuses voters. Aside from the political impacts, other effects could be accusing some popular food and beverage industries that they are adding bad substances to their products; this kind of accusation could reduce customers and affect their sales and profit. It can also affect celebrities involving details regarding their personal lives.
Fake news can be very damaging and misunderstanding, to avoid these dangers and misinterpretations, citizens need to be more alert because it is found on the social media everyone uses nowadays. It is very important that people know how to compare reliable news sources and spot the false ones. Critical thinking is the strongest tool to help them to do this, along with additional interventions from social media to combat this epidemic. Critical Thinking means judging information to see if it is reliable or not and can be defined as “the process of analyzing and assessing thinking with a view to improving it.” (Paul and Elder, 2005). To support this, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace support using critical thinking to combat fake news. They suggest the improvement of media literacy; promote independent citizen fact-checking and engage social media companies to be actively involved in mitigating potential threats. (Brattberg, Maurer, 2018). By being skeptical, asking questions, and looking for different reliable sources that agree or disagree, it is possible to judge and deduce the validity of information, and gain a greater understanding around a subject. Even the youth should be educated about the media literacy and critical thinking skills. As social media is being used to spread the fake news, it could also be used to help combat this problem by providing tools that are designated to identify false information and to stop the activity of social bots.