Extra Extra Read All About The Fake News
FAKE NEWS!! I’ve bet you’ve heard that term within the last year more than once. Albeit, probably from the worrisome leader of our neighbours to the south, but to throw a plot twist at you, I wont be talking about him today, well not directly anyways. Instead, I want to tell you about the troublesome issue of fake news and I thought what better way than to scroll through my Facebook feed and find you an example. Let me tell you, it didn’t take long.
After scrolling for a couple a minutes the day after the Las Vegas shooting took place, I came across an article titled Las Vegas Gunshot Victim Believes There Were Multiple Shooters (The Blast, 2017). Now this article presents the misinformation in a deceiving way. By interviewing an individual, Rocky Palermo, who was in the vicinity when the shootings took place, a sense of insider knowledge or expertise is offered to readers. The fact that Palermo is not trained for situations such as these nor does he have any tactical knowledge of bullet trajectory still does not stop him from claiming there were multiple shooters. But not just multiple shooters, at least 3-5 shooters according to his insider knowledge. This is all the Internet needed to spark a wildfire, and let me tell you, that thing spread faster than a snow cone melts in hell.
Enter conspiracy theorists.
Within hours Facebook groups such as Las Vegas Shooting Uncensored Talk and Las Vegas Shooting Investigation were started, pulling in members by the hundreds. Here an open discussion board fuelled the fire of misinformation as thousands of people turned Facebook into an echo chamber, reiterating their own beliefs and custom interpretations, with no regard for fact checking or the truth. Confirmation bias is a funny thing isn’t it? To add to the chaos, Facebook and Google alike promoted several false news stories surrounding the shooter, some claimed he was a Trump hating Democrat, but most startling, false news stories surfaced of wrongly identifying the shooters as Geary Danley (Levin, 2017). The origin of the misidentification of the shooter are unclear but that didn’t stop the false accusation from being spread across social media platforms. His name was quickly embedded into the algorithms of Facebook and Google and thus the sites promoted the rumour by having it remain at the top of the search results for anyone searching his name.
The police have come out publicly stating there was only one shooter, Stephan Paddock, and have emphasized this point in spite of all the conspiracies claiming otherwise (Qiu, 2017). And let me tell you, boy are there a lot of conspiracy theories starting up, just a quick google search and you’ll find more than your fair share.
Now, I don’t know about you, but this leads me to question how this fake news was able to spin out of control so fast and gain so much traction. Let’s look at the news source, in 2016 it was reported that 62% of adults use social media platforms, such as Facebook, as their news source. This has increased by 13% since 2014 (PEW Research Center, 2016), an unsettling trend to say the least. If that doesn’t freak you out than how about this, 44% of Facebook users use the platform as a news source, two thirds of their users (PEW Research Center, 2016), I’ll break that down further for you, there are 2.01 billion Facebook users, this means that approximately 884400000 people use Facebook as their primary news source. Were you too lazy to read that number? It is 884.4 MILLION people, let that resonate.
But wait! It doesn’t stop there, nearly 6 out of 10 Twitter users receive their news from Twitter and get this, 7 out of 10, 70% of Redd It users use that site as their news source, REDD IT! (PEW Research Center, 2016). As a communications student, I’m sure my fellow students will agree, the first thing we learn is to take every news article you read with a grain of salt, if you are getting your news articles from Redd It, I suggest you down the entire 1kg box of salt with it. (Please don’t actually ingest 1kg of salt).
If I haven’t already lost you in the numbers, I have one more to throw at you, 31% of these users get their information from this social media platform. Wait for it. Tumblr (PEW Research Center, 2016). Honestly, I wasn’t even aware that Tumblr even posted anything news related, let alone have that many people use it as a news source. I’m just going to say it, bring back the newspaper! Evidently, we are in desperate need of it.
Blast Staff, The. (2017). Las vegas gunshot victim believes there were multiple shooters. The Blast.
Gottfried, J., Shearer, E. (2016). News use across social media platforms 2016. Pew Research Center.
Levin, S. (2017). Facebook and google promote politicized fake news about las vegas shooter. The Guardian.
Qui, L. (2017). No, there was not more than one gunman in the las vegas shooting. The New York Times.