Fake news is nothing new — it’s been around long before Trump’s attacks

The state of the public’s current confidence in the news media, especially with the president’s constant attacks on fact-based reporting, is alarming. PEN America, a nonprofit organization that advocates press freedom nationally and worldwide, has established a Press Freedom Incentive Fund to help local communities discuss related issues.

The group co-sponsored a press freedom discussion on November 19 in downtown Minneapolis that featured four women: Minneapolis Community and Technical College Professor Shannon Gibney, journalists Sheila Regan and Marya Hornbacher, and poet Sun Yung Shin.

Shannon Gibney (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Asked if the fake news issue discussed during the two-hour event, mostly attended by Whites, should be of any interest to Blacks, Gibney told the MSR, “Black media, ethnic media from historically margainized communities, has been the antidote to fake news from the beginning.

“It doesn’t mean that we don’t need fact checkers. It doesn’t mean that you believe everything you hear” from non-mainstream news sources, she said.

The Riveter co-founder and editorial director Joanna Demklewicz, who moderated the panel, defined ‘fake news’ as “false and often sensational information under the guise of reporting.” She told the audience that the term is in contention for 2017’s word of the year.

Social media is partly to blame for this, said the panel, which introduced several terms to emphasize their point:

  • Info-snacking —com describes this as when people use the first few lines of an on-line news story to quickly get information. “The average person spends about two minutes on a news article” and around 10 minutes reading the entire article, Gibney said.
  • Satisficing — first introduced in 1956 as “only satisfactory results [that] the person is familiar with,” Businessdictionary.com noted. Hornbacher stressed that people tend to get “just enough information to satisfy them. We believe what we want to believe. We have to dig deeper for news.”
  • Click-bait — Wikipedia says this is when people just “click” on a story based on the headline, which Regan noted might be misleading. “The headline is trying to get you to click… Headlines can be terrible.”
  • Confirmation bias — people filter out facts and opinions that don’t match their own, Wikipedia states. People today use this to decide whether or not a news story is true, Hornbacher pointed out.
(l-r) Sun Yung Shin, Marya Hornbacher, Sheila Regan, Shannon Gibney (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Fake news is on the rise, but it didn’t begin with President Trump’s attacks on stories he doesn’t agree with since January. It dates back to the muckraking days of the 19th century, Gibney said, but today people are “happily” sharing false information among their circle of friends and family. “It’s bigger than you can imagine,” she said.

Fake news “brings into question our credibility” as journalists, Hornbacher continued. “The media literacy has to be taught before [readers] get to college. “Fact checking actually is not very hard. I think, as consumers, we need to be well informed about our news consumption,” especially when using social media sources, she pointed out.

“Fake news in the digital era and the era of Trump is totally proliferating… It’s not new,” said Gibney, the only Black person on the panel. “Blacks [and other people of color] know this. I think a lot of mainstream news historically [have] been called ‘fake’ by many in the Black community. I get a lot of my news from social media.”

Sun Yung stressed, “We need to see it for what it is” and not take social media too seriously. “We need to think bigger and not put so much importance on what we are hearing.”

Regan believes effective journalism, as a result, is still needed. “[It] is not just about someone’s opinion or giving the PR spin. Statistics can be a nice addition to an article, but where do these statistics come from? You have to show where these numbers came from — not all data [are] created equally.”

However, social media aren’t going away, the panelists emphasized. “Some of [it] is really troublesome, and some of that is really good,” especially from underserved communities, Gibney said.

She later told the MSR that social media such as Black Twitter have given Blacks and other people of color “a voice in terms of providing original content and critiquing some of this mainstream stuff.

“I am always eager to see what’s next on how our community is going to use [social media] to further this and other important conversations,” Gibney said.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.