By Floyd Whiting
George Washington said, “The freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”
It is the plight of man to forget many of the struggles that have faced us as we grow as a nation. There are currently many people who believe the distrust of the media is something new, or that the media is only out to take your dollar while creating calm discourse and national frenzy, whatever that frenzy may currently be.
The media in the United States is, in fact, older than the nation itself. Thomas Paine used the printing press to inspire and inform a British colony to rebel and create the most powerful nation the world had ever known.
In the 1890s, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst owned newspapers that were well circulated and locked in a bitter competition with each other. That competition lead to what would become to be known as “yellow journalism,” and for years, the two media giants were blamed for spurring on the Spanish-American war.
The term “yellow journalism” is derived from the first commercially successful comic strip in the United States called Hogan’s Alley, drawn by Richard F. Outcault. The strip was published in color and featured a kid, down on his luck, wearing a large yellow sleeping gown. The Yellow Kid would come to symbolize sensational reporting and unreliable news.
Yellow journalism is the practice of creating sensational news stories that contain very little, if any, facts or reliable sources. Today, we see the practice named for what it truly is: Fake news.
But fake news is nothing new, especially regarding politics. The practice is as old as journalism itself.
When I was a young boy, we would travel from the small western Wyoming town that I was born in and visit my grandmother who lived in a large city in Utah. My grandmother loved tabloids.
I can remember the pile of black and white newspaper laying on her kitchen chair. The covers told stories of Bigfoot’s wedding, Batboy’s discovery and how reptiles were secretly running the world. My father was quick to explain to me that these stories were not real and people made them up to sell the paper and make money. The concept was alien to me as a young child who had been told to always tell the truth, and even in that young time in my life, I understood that my father would read newspapers to become informed, but these were different. I knew there was not a Batboy out there in the world.
But that was the 1980s. The pictures looked fake. The stories were obviously creations and incredible conspiracies. Tabloids are generally considered harmless and obviously intended for entertainment. With the advent of the Internet, photograph-enhancing technology and then the explosion of mobile devices, our access to information has developed from an information revolution to a second renaissance of mankind. People have access to information on a level unseen in history, and it’s up to each of us to decide how we use that technology.
Social media has become crowded with news sources. Many are reliable and operated by responsible, trained and ethically sound journalists. But there are many “fake news” sites and pages funded by advertising.
These advertisers purchase space on a site with the price depending on the number of page views that site receives or the number of times the page is visited. In other words, they need the support of viewers to survive.
We as consumers must do our own research and perform our own fact-checking on the topics that concern us. What is happening within this nation is nothing new. It is the responsibility of each person to inform themselves to the best of their ability and make decisions based on that information within their moral and ethical beliefs.
Misinformation and fake news is a serious matter. It can and has changed the world around us. But we are no longer bound by three stations on television; we are no longer confined to limited sources of information, they now appear limitless. It is up to the consumer to decide if the information is fact or fiction, and in this age, you have the choice to promote that or not.
Fake news will always be circulating. Every time you choose to share a story on any social media, you are making a choice. It is up to you if that choice is informed, checked and known to be true. If a story appears to be too good or too bad to be true, before you share or post it, check the sources.