“Fake News,” is a rediscovered term that’s now common enough that it’s become deeply ingrained in the vocabulary of our sitting president.
Unfortunately, President Trump fails to accurately define “fake news” for what it is, a type of yellow journalism that relies on the worst instincts of Americans, using fear-mongering, scandal-promoting, conspiracy theories, sensationalism, or unprofessional practices by news media organizations or individual journalists. Instead Donald Trump falsely equates, “fake news” to unflattering or negative coverage of TV news networks that either directly or indirectly associates to him, stimulating 29 million tweets about fake news in the last year.
Social media is home to the transmission of fake news, where it facilitates the ability to spread like wildfire. Nature Human Behavior published a model of how news spreads on social media in June of 2017, indicating that just about anything can go viral. However, there’s a great discrepancy in the accuracy of what is more likely to go viral. FactCheck.Org examined 126,000 stories tweeted by about 3 million people more than 4.5 million times, and they found that the fake news stories were 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than stories that were true.
And this is the problem, there’s little to no obligation to fact check the accuracy of what’s being shared, and most people aren’t able to remain objective on heated political issues. The New York time’s podcast, “The Daily,” interviewed a far-right website called Mad World News. They’re known for sharing controversial and fabricated news stories, admitting the more salacious, the more likely they are to succeed.
But fake news articles face a barrier, their impact can only be measured by how many people they actually reach and they’re only effective if the link is clicked on. So, that’s where memes come into play, memes are the crux to fake news on social media.
Memes are appealing, they’re humorous, satirical, and/or ironic, they’re a fixation of the culture during the period in which they are created. The memes’ messages that are being transmitted and how those messages provoke the emotions of its viewers and their predetermined ideas and opinions is the predominant factor if a meme is deemed believable or not.
Most Americans are attuned to photographic manipulation, but it didn’t stop this fake news meme from reaching Trump, who retweeted it on Nov. 28, calling for several prominent Democrats and law enforcement and intelligence officials to be imprisoned. The meme includes the text: “NOW THAT RUSSIA COLLUSION IS A PROVEN LIE, WHEN DO THE TRIALS FOR TREASON BEGIN?”
While though this meme is clearly #fakenews, it was still shared at least 26,000 times, sowing doubt that the justice system is corrupt without any factual basis. This category of fake news memes is what’s driving polarization between political identities, and since there’s no accountability, there’s no repercussions to when this information reaches the wrong people.
It’s recently come out that Cesar Sayoc Jr, the man who’s accused of sending pipe bombs to a dozen prominent Democrats and Trump critics, became radicalized online. He started building his political identity based on false information beginning just this last year. He went from an average Facebook user posting about going to the gym, to then reposting conspiracy theories shared by seemingly reliable sources like Fox News and Trump.
Trump, Fox News, and other sources he shared may not be directly responsible, but their actions are negligible at best. We cannot criminalize public opinion, but we can find ways to adapt to the new transmission of false information infecting our Internet, and demand that news sources maintain basic integrity.