An online article with the headline “Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement,” circulated through Facebook in the final and critical three months before the 2016 presidential election. It garnered 960,000 engagements, likes and comments, more than an article titled “Trump’s History of Corruption is Mind-Boggling. So Why Is Clinton Supposedly the Corrupted One?”
Here’s the catch: The article on Pope Francis is entirely fake. The latter — on Trump’s corruption — is real, published by The Washington Post.
The phenomenon of fake news has made headlines of its own following the election, as multiple studies have shown that many articles circulating through Facebook during the election season were falsified. On face value, it seems these articles are legitimate, given that their host websites sound like news sources, such as Occupy Democrats, American News and Addicting Info.
The spread of fake news across social media is especially alarming among college students, as a study conducted by Stanford University showed that a majority of college students had difficulty evaluating the legitimacy of certain tweets.
College students should be cautious of which stories they post on their social media networks, as increased exposure to fake news only strengthens these outlets even more. While it may be tempting for liberals or conservatives to share articles that confirm their beliefs, stories from partisan blogs may be riddled with misstatements or skewed facts to create a certain narrative — one that is often completely false and misleading.
The allure in fake news is the hyperpartisan stances and charged, accusatorial headlines, inviting those on the right and left with a strong dislike of the other side to share these false stories far and wide. However, in an age where a majority of people receive their news from the internet, it is becoming increasingly important to be aware of the legitimacy of news sources.
As the world grows more ideologically polarized, seeking out confirmation bias grows more tempting by the day. These fake news websites capitalize on this psychological phenomenon. Yet existing in an echo chamber does not allow for intellectual growth or even any challenging of one’s beliefs. While news from reputable, credible outlets may present harsh truths or challenge one’s worldview, it is ultimately these articles that have the standing to inform the public, unlike skewed fake pieces.
Fake news poses a danger to a well-informed society. It perpetuates an echo chamber in which individuals’ beliefs remain confirmed and unchallenged. Being a generation that has the influence to shape this country’s future in the coming years, college students must reject the spread of fake news to building a strong, informed democracy.