The idea of “fake news” has existed in the United States from the country’s beginning – even some Founding Fathers cast doubt on the news industry – but the way the concept has been weaponized recently is unprecedented, Dr. Clay Carey, an assistant professor of journalism and mass communication at Samford University, told Alabama Media Professionals members at the group’s monthly meeting Nov. 8.
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted early this year, 86 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of Democrats believe the media takes a side when covering political and social issues. The numbers are high, and the partisan divide is wider than ever, Carey said.
Media experts have classified fake news into two broad categories: misinformation, which is unintentionally false, and disinformation, which is false information spread deliberately.
“Disinformation is not new, but we talk about it more now because the digital revolution has made it so much easier to intentionally deceive people,” Carey said.
Technology exists to alter photos and videos, and most companies that produce and disseminate this technology are unwilling to police its use, he continued. “Disinformation is impacting the trust people have in all forms of media,” he said.
Americans’ growing struggle with separating fact from opinion also hampers their ability to know when they are being deceived, Carey said.
Another 2018 Pew report – this one based on a survey that asked respondents to label 10 statements as fact or opinion – found only 26 percent could correctly identify all five facts, and only 35 percent could accurately identify all five opinions.
Young people are generally worse than adults at evaluating information to determine how factual it is, Carey said. Studies also have shown they are relatively uncritical of photos and information they view on the Internet and social media.
Carey said while the outlook might seem grim, there is evidence media professionals can significantly improve it by making their work clear and accessible.
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