Media The Independent Fake News

Fake news: what is it and how do the media tackle it?


By Dani Gibson | Senior Writer

November 16, 2017 | 6 min read

Can the media stand up to fake news? The term, only made mainstream by President Trump's 'claim' over the phrase, has many meanings, but what it comes down to is misinformation spread throughout the media.

The Drum spoke to the Independent, Wikitribune and male-focused publisher Joe Media to find out how they think fake news can be tackled.

What is fake news?

Gavin Johnson, managing director, It’s telling lies in terms of manipulating people's minds and their actions and beliefs. Where fake news is now, is that it has manifested into something which is perceived to be a very negative thing. The obvious person to mention here, who has adopted it to his benefit, is Donald Trump. That sits very uncomfortably with a lot of people, certainly in the media world, because he is creating fake news by using fake news as a mantra.

Christian Broughton, editor, the Independent : The term turned up around the time of the 2016 US election where, what I imagine, is a small number of alarming articles that were complete fiction. What it didn't initially mean is news you can't trust. That is a more interesting definition of it. But if you someone like Donald Trump, it can mean anything that doesn't suit your agenda, but we could leave that definition out of it.

Orit Kopel, co-founder and vice president of business development, Wikitribune: I believe that we should separate the term ‘fake news’ from bad journalism. ‘Fake news’ is completely false information which was created with the intention of deceiving the public; it is usually provided by unfamiliar dubious sources and can often be detected pretty easily.

Whose job is it to police ‘fake news’?

GJ: This falls on a lot of people and organisations, like Facebook, to a certain extent and the people who consume it. A great place to start is the publishers. For instance, The Daily Telegraph had to correct a front-page story headlined: “Student forces Cambridge to drop white authors”, where they put a picture of a student on the front page claiming her to have pressured Cambridge University to drop white authors from their back catalogue of publications in favour of black authors. The story turned out to be incorrect and wrong. But the damage was done. There needs to be a process.

CB: Publishers need to get better at creating engaging real news. That may mean we have to reassess what we think of as the kind of coverage that we put out there.

OK: I don't think that anyone should or can 'police' the Internet. The way to fight fake news and bad journalism is to offer a reliable alternative, a trustworthy source where people can turn to in order to receive verified neutral information about what's really going on in the world.

What could mainstream media need to do to win back the trust of the public?

GJ: I wouldn't necessarily agree with that statement. In the States, Trump has tried to push that view. In the UK however, I don't believe that there is quite the same cynicism of mainstream media. There’s a real trust in the media here.

CB: In this country a lot of the media organisations are embedded to political parties which doesn't really help. We’ve seen a massive shift in politics and as the politics of the UK has changed it has given real challenges to news organisations that are defined by which party they stand by, giving an identity crisis to some news organisations.

OK: It starts with the financial incentives and the ad-based business model. Traditional mainstream media is losing in the battle against the speed of social media and driven into chasing clicks, creating a dubious "click-bait" headlines, the radical discourse, the fast publication of unverified information which caused the public to lose its trust. The business model should change in a way that would respect the readers and reward high-quality content over clicks.

Why can't people determine what is a credible news source and what isn't?

GJ: It’s easy to scam people, to be misled in this day and age and dress up news into something that is credible, but difficult to educate people to not be gullible. They want to believe something, and they are delivered information which reinforces it.

In terms of platforms like Facebook, once you start pursuing content you are delivered more of it because the algorithm believes that it is what you want to view. All it’s doing is reinforcing the prejudices which are incorrect in the fake news that is consumed.

CB: When you look at the amount of social media engagement, for instance, it's driven by the world’s top ten social media publishers. That is a huge chunk and people are affected by brands. People do want reassurance that what they are reading is accurate. A return to recognised, trusted, established media brands is a good thing as long as the media brands on the other hand are prepared to move with the times.

OK: News consumers don't always have the tools, time or resources that professional journalists have in order to fact check every news source that they are exposed to on a daily basis. My advice is to always be suspicious and not believe every story that you read online.

Broughton, Kopel and Johnson will speak amongst a panel of other industry experts on "Scale, Trust and the Era of Fake News" at Media Slap on Friday 24 November at Google, London.

You can purchase tickets now via the event website, which you can grab for a £100 discount per ticket today. This conference looks at the media publishing business, focusing on areas such as technology, audience, content, new products and other revenue models.

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