Recently, the terms “fake news” and “alternative facts” have been given rise in the media.
This has caused concerns for journalists, politicians and business professionals, among others, and raised questions about what fake news is.
Eliza High, a first-year public relations major, said that if the media does not tell 100 percent of the truth, then it should be considered fake news.
“I think that fake news is when the media tries to skew what information they release to us, kind of in one direction or another and when they leave out certain things,” High said.
In one incident, fake news nearly landed people in court. Jay Seaton, the publisher of the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel in Colorado, threatened to sue Ray Scott, a Republican in Colorado’s State Senate, for libel after Scott called his newspaper “fact-free, fake news,” according to Franziska Kues, a writer for Poynter.
Kues said that Scott had previously endorsed the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and often cited it as a source of his information.
The libel case asked how to prove something is fake news.
Proving something to be fake news in a court can be very difficult.
What is Libel?
Libel refers to statements published in some medium that harms an individual and is false information. The statement or statements must be false and defamatory. It must be proven that the publisher created the story knowing that it is false.
“I think (proving fake news) is a hard situation,” High said. “I would say doing your research and checking other sources is a fairly good way of (identifying fake news). There is no textbook definition of fake news. Therefore proving something to be such would be a difficult case.”
Chris Snider, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Drake, had his own take on the topic.
“Fake news is when people are creating something that’s not true and trying to pass it off as fact,” Snider said.
Snider cited The Onion, a satirical online newspaper, as a way to look at news from a comedic standpoint. Many of The Onion’s articles are inspired by real events and people, but the content is fictional.
When he was in college, Snider and his friends knew not all of the information in The Onion was real, but were still interested, just as people today are in alternative facts.
Snider argues that journalists face the struggle of telling stories accurately.
“Obviously journalism does have a problem with fake news, whether it’s their fault or not,” Snider said.
Matthew Malmberg is a junior at Drake studying computer science, who shared his thoughts on the severity and commonality of fake news in modern journalism.
“There are certain fake news stories that get blown up, but it’s not any worse than it has been,” Malmberg said.
Malmberg expressed that fake news is oftentimes used as a political instrument, but people often incorrectly label things as “fake news,” regardless.
“I think (fake news) is any story or publication that, either based on context or false facts, produces a not true indication of what is actually happening in the world,” Malmberg said.
Writers and reporters may start out with a story based on facts, but may be taken off in another direction. In his interview with Poynter, Seaton said that he does not feel fake news is an issue in most of modern journalism, but more so that a single writer can put all journalists in a negative light by making one mistake.