Effect of Fake News on Social Media Users

Recently, fake news has been a big issue on social media sites. Fake news has real world consequences and it’s oversaturation on social media sites, like facebook, cause people who click on the fake articles to believe them. This can cause people to believe things that are not true and spread the false information to others who might not be informed. Some things that can result from fake news being shared are the absorption of information without fact checking and the spreading of incorrect information.

When someone reads an article or watches news on TV, a lot of people just read the articles and take in the information being given without actually checking other sources to see if it is true or not. There have been studies that have found that a good amount of the population can not tell the difference between proper and improper sources of information. A recent study by Stanford researchers that “evaluated students’ ability to assess information sources” (Domonoske) discovered that students from middle school through college in twelve states “were getting duped again and again” (Domonoske).

The researchers hypothesized that since the younger generation is more technologically savvy and are on social media more then they would be able to tell the difference between valid source of news and a invalid source of news, and fake news and real news. They “described the results as ‘dismaying,’ ‘bleak and’ ‘[a] threat to democracy.’ ” (Domonoske). The results of this study show that no one really looks into the background of their news source. There are various possible outcomes of not looking into the background or the validity of a news source. Most of the times the outcome is people being misinformed and believing false information, but there are time when being misinformed and believing false information can lead to violence, and people end up being hurt.

An example of fake news possibly leading to violence, and people getting hurt, is the Pizzagate scandal. This scandal was the result of a fake news story that had been spreading around online. The false accusations were saying that Hillary “Clinton and her aides were running a child sex ring out of a D.C. pizzeria” (Taylor). These accusations resulted in a North Carolina man driving all the way to Washington D.C. to “ ‘self-investigate’ the ‘pizzagate’ conspiracy” (Slotkin). When he arrived, he walked into the store with a loaded rifle and fired inside the store. This time no one was injured, but this shows how far people will go because of a fake news story and what happens when people do not research a story on their own. In addition to this event, on Facebook, people comment under fake news articles with threatening messages. Even though these comments have not led to anything, this does not mean that they will not lead to anything.

Some people would argue this by saying that people do not fact check real news either. They say that both fake news and real news are just read without really looking too much into it or looking at the sources of every single article that they read. There is some truth to this, as people who are reading various different articles might not really want to use their time to look at the sources of every article to see if they are from credible sources. Even people in high positions can fall for fake news stories. For example, Michael Flynn’s son, who was also his chief of staff, was fired for “using Twitter to spread a fake news story about Hillary Clinton that led to an armed confrontation in a pizza restaurant in Washington” (Rosenberg, Haberman, Schmitt).

The difference between not fact checking a fake news story and a real news story is that real news already includes the sources from which they got the information from. Real news articles include the sources for the quotes that are used. Even the pictures used in real news articles have the photographer’s name and the company they work for right below the picture. Meanwhile, fake news articles include pictures, but include no name and are usually just pulled off the internet, which often have no correlation to what the fake news articles are talking about.

Another thing that has happened is the continuation of false information being spread, because people share fake news on social media. During the 2016 Presidential election, a story was spread which was saying that “Hillary Clinton paid Jay Z and Beyonce $62 million dollars for performing at a rally in Cleveland before the election” (Fresh Air), and a lot of people were sharing this story on Facebook during the election. In the radio show Fresh Air, Dave Davies is talking with Craig Silverman, who works for Buzzfeed and has been looking at media inaccuracy for many years, about “ false stories during the presidential campaign were spread on Facebook and monetized by Google AdSense” (Fresh Air). On the show, they mentioned that, on Facebook, at both 9 months before the election and at 6 months before the election, articles from big mainstream media outlets were receiving more engagement than the fake news stories that were being released onto the site. This changed once the 3 month mark came around.

At 3 months before the election, Silverman “saw the fake news spike” and “saw the mainstream news engagement…decline” (Fresh Air). At this critical time before the election, news stories that were resonating with voters was being written and shared. The majority of the stories that were resonating with the voters was fake news stories and stories that were either in support of Trump or against Clinton. People share these articles thinking that they are from credible sources, but they end up spreading information that is false. The people who write fake news articles create them with the purpose of making the reader believe the information and influencing and supporting their beliefs and possibly decisions. As seen with the 2016 Presidential Election, fake news was a large issue and people end up believing the articles they read and share them with their friends and family members on social media. This makes it more difficult to combat fake news.

Some people argue that since no one actually clicks on the news articles that their family members or friends share on social media, then false information from a fake news story will not affect the users beliefs and decisions. On Facebook, most people have more than 100 friends. As a result of this, the things that everyone shares or likes gets put in an individual’s page, and there is so much on there that people will not click on every article shared by their Facebook friends. Even if no one clicks on the article, what does happen is people will read the title of an article while scrolling through their Facebook page. When someone reads the title of an article, the main idea of the article is still put into the reader’s mind and might even have a more damaging effect. It might actually hurt more reading just the title of a fake news story because sometimes when reading the entire story, the reader will see something that looks off and see that it is a fake story. When someone reads just the title, they will not be able to see if something seems off.

Facebook is the main social media site, in which fake news stories are spread. Although Facebook has tried to combat fake news, they have not been very successful. People are beginning to test algorithms that will detect fake news. The program tests resulted in “about 86 percent accuracy”, but still struggled when it came to “identifying the type of misinformation present in sensational news items” (Akpan). A lie detector trial resulted in “a 63 percent success rate”, which is better than “ the human ability to spot lies” that is at “54 percent on average” (Akpan), though it is not better by a large margin.

Another way that Facebook is attempting to fight fake news is by introducing a “new portal that lets users see which Internet Research Agency-linked Facebook pages or Instagram accounts they liked or followed” (Yurieff). The Internet Research Agency is “a troll farm with ties to the Russian government” (Yurieff). This attempt at fighting back against fake news is one of the more effective ways because it tells the user which of pages they followed or stories they liked were fake. The downside is that it will only tell the user what is fake news if they like or follow it and “won’t work for users who saw posts from the accounts on their feed because a friend liked them or who saw them via paid advertisements” (Yurieff).

Fake news is a big problem affecting social media users all over the world, and if nothing is done to stop it, then it will continue negatively affecting the lives of millions of people. As seen recently, fake news stories can have violent consequences that could end up harming the lives of innocent people are not even aware of what fake news stories caused someone’s actions. The oversaturation of fake news on social media can have various consequences, and as stated earlier, some things that can result from fake news being shared are the absorption of information without fact checking and the spreading of incorrect information.