Fake News Isn’t Growing, It Has Always Been Around
Congratulations are in order. On Jan. 17, President Donald Trump awarded CNN four out of eleven of the Fake News Awards. So, congratulations, CNN.
These awards are part of a larger narrative that the President has been spinning since the start of his campaign. That narrative is that the mainstream media is corrupt and broken, and that fake news is flourishing.
It’s not just the President who is attacking the news, though. The country in general is increasingly growing more distrustful and more worried about fake news. The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reports that 7 out of 10 Americans are worried about the weaponization of fake news, which ranks our anxieties about the news right alongside China’s and Russia’s. A lot of citizens are asking, why is fake news popping up all of a sudden?
That’s entirely the wrong question. Fake news and bias in news has always been a problem. The Spanish-American war was started by fake news, or as it was called back then, yellow journalism. Yellow journalism was blamed for the assassination of William McKinley. Benito Mussolini was fond of attacking the “yellow press” after papers published reports of his ill health. Even back in medieval times, fake news known as blood libel was used to attack Jews and pin them all as murderers.
So the question isn’t why is fake news suddenly becoming such a problem. The question is why is it suddenly being pushed to the forefront of our attention? The answer isn’t easy. Part of it is the rise of social media and easy access to the internet.
Jestin Coler, the CEO Disinformedia, which specializes in fake news, spoke about this in an interview with NPR. He said how “anybody with a blog can get on there” and find or spread fake news with relative ease.
Another problem is the massive polarization of American politics. According to a study by PEW research, in 2004 only 13 percent of Democrats considered themselves consistently liberal and only 6 percent of Republicans considered themselves consistently conservative. In 2016, those numbers more than doubled with 27 percent of Democrats saying they were consistently liberal and 22 percent of Republicans saying they were consistently Republican.
“Partisan political sites take nuggets of real truth and spin them into highly distorted clickbait articles.” – David Mikkelson
This increase in polarization has started a cold war between the two parties that turns everything, including the news and the truth, into a weapon. Both parties are quick to label anything they disagree with as fake news, even if it’s not.
According to the founder of Snopes, David Mikkelson, fake news isn’t the biggest problem with the media; bad news is. Many news outlets report the truth, but they report it through the lens of their own biases.
“Partisan political sites take nuggets of real truth and spin them into highly distorted clickbait articles,” Mikkelson said.
It’s this rise in bias news reporting that has led to a sharp decline in trust. In a poll by Gallup, only 32 percent of Americans said they trusted the news to be accurate and fair, which is down nine points since last year, the sharpest decline in over ten years.
This isn’t some new phenomena though and it’s certainly not entirely the President’s fault, though he doesn’t help matters. This decline in trust and increase in partisanship is something that’s been building for years now and is only now reaching its boiling point. Or, perhaps this is all just fake news.