When I was going through school, the idea that “Fake News” existed in the mainstream had never come across my mind. Reliability of news was never on the table, not even the elephant in the room. Now that we are in the Post-Truth era however, the land of hearsay and rumour is before us. To a journalist who desires all big news to be based on concrete evidence, it was shocking to see how the most viral stories were built on the equivalent of the last ramblings of the battiest patron down the pub at closing time. Where once we had to look to our respective tabloids to find the controversial stories we crave, now outlets can just release a hollow story of libel to make a quick buck. The last year was a bumper year for news headlines from every media outlet imaginable, from the mainstream to the up and coming. The news was awash with controversial footage and political slander which fueled an explosion of content throughout the internet. However, much of this was not backed up by any sort of evidence and was as sturdy a story as a chair with two legs. Part of the main reason why this content is flourishing is part of how we consume news today.
Like a Scotsman trying on a itchy kilt, it’s hard to get a feel for the patterns. Most of the fake news stories we hear stems from sites on the internet that do not need to write Darwin’s muse to get noticed. As soon as we click on a site, the ads on the page light up like a Oligarch on inauguration night. All these sites need to do to get money is to make a provocative title so that the public clicks on it. Out of these two headlines, which one would you pick? Theresa May’s 12 Point Plan: what do we know? Or, Theresa May’s government makes plans to add engines to the UK and float off into the Atlantic! It is no longer the case that we look for the best argument or the most evidence, we now only look for those who have the largest megaphone.
My favourites for this year have been as diverse as a BuzzFeed boardroom. Such highlights include Pope Francis taking that momentous decision to support Donald Trump, the revelation that Freddie Starr ate a hamster, and the dodgiest dossier in the history of Russian intelligence that revealed that Trump also likes his showers encrusted in gold. This may lead to a very interesting story, but they never had the evidence to make the claims.
The most blatant fake news of the year had always seem to come with a political aftertaste. It seems that in this situation, the bias of one’s own political views, coupled with them being confirmed by fake news is why the stories sustain. Particularly in Trump’s case, it seems that the crazy things this man has said and done has made any story that sounds plausible (at this stage anything) publishable without a shred of independent evidence.
In a clickbait world, just as the wheat must be separated from the chaff, the comment must be separated from the news. The media has great power to swing public opinion and to print news is to put all areas the news affects in danger of misinformed change. I simply hope that this ends before the main headline of this paper is “YUSU spends over Ten Thousand Pounds on Inappropriate Hats”.