Fake news, consisting of fake articles and photos being presented as real news, dominated the headlines of 2016. It caused uproar and confusion many times throughout the year, but most prominently during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Fake news articles told people the pope endorsed Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton held a child sex ring in a pizza shop, and Donald Trump supporters yelled, “We hate Muslims, we hate blacks, we want our great country back” at a rally.
Many of these stories were shared widely on Facebook, which people put under fire for allowing the circulation of fake news, since Facebook’s algorithm favours popular stories.
In response, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post Nov. 18 that the company is working to reduce “misinformation” from being shared.
This includes making it easier to flag articles and working “with journalists and others in the news industry to get their input, in particular, to better understand their fact-checking systems and learn from them.”
These steps to help keep fake news from circulating are great, but is Facebook really to blame? Any fake news story that became a trending topic on Facebook did so because a bunch of users clicked, read and shared the story. It wasn’t Facebook that decided the fake news would become popular — it was Facebook users.
I don’t think Facebook is to blame at all. It was simply giving users what was most popular, and what most users were reading. The issue isn’t that people were exposed to fake news, but rather that people were reading and believing and sharing fake news.
In a time where some journalists are losing their jobs and social media has become an instant way for anyone to share information with the world, Facebook’s fake news is a good reminder: check your sources.
Would you believe it if a complete stranger ran up to you in the grocery store and told you the pope endorsed Donald Trump? You probably wouldn’t.
So why would you believe it if you read about it online?
This isn’t Facebook’s problem — it’s society’s problem. Remember when our parents would give us the “safe internet” speech about talking to people only if you knew them in person and to always be aware that strangers could be lurking? Well, apparently adults need the reminder too.
Check sources, think critically, and don’t believe everything you read on the internet. This isn’t rocket science, people.
Shaylyn McMahon is an aspiring communications professional,
an avid coffee drinker and a wannabe world explorer.
She’d rather be cuddling her cat at any given moment, and if you can’t see her, you can probably hear her laugh.
Follow her on Twitter @ShaylynMcMahon.