When the executives of Facebook and Google recently announced they would take steps to curb the amount of fake news circulating on their sites, they finally, publicly acknowledged something that legitimate news agencies have been concerned about for a long time.
And it is this: Phony, outrageous stories are more popular and are shared more often than well-researched, thoughtful news articles from reputable sources.
When advertising dollars depend on the number of clicks a website gets, how do the gatekeepers of authentic news compete?
This is the challenge.
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While news agencies and tech giants can do their part to make the real news available, users also have a responsibility to understand their role in this dilemma. Otherwise, as a society, we are in trouble.
People have a tendency to believe anything they read if it confirms their views and fears. It would help if readers would guard themselves against this. If you want lies, there are people eager to feed them to you.
We need to be courageous, and listen to voices different than our own without getting angry. We need to be skeptical when reading an article using unnamed sources, or coming from an obscure website. We need to understand the difference between sponsored content and news.
Most importantly, we need to teach teens and children how to discern fact from fiction.
As a community newspaper, we may get something wrong from time to time, but we do not make our stories up. No legitimate news agency does.
We offer an institutional voice on our Opinion pages, but we also offer a variety of perspectives from columnists, and we make room for our readers in our Letters to the Editor section.
Just like some grocery store tabloids, websites that promote false stories will dupe you and profit from it.
In order to help alleviate that, executives for Facebook and Google have said they will pay closer attention, and will not allow fake news sites to use their advertising services.
This announcement comes under pressure and accusations that false news stories on the Internet contributed to Republican Donald Trump winning the presidential election.
Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg attempted to dispute those allegations and wrote a post saying that “more than 99 percent of what people see is authentic” and that it was “extremely unlikely” false stories and hoaxes affected the outcome of the election.
But there were too many examples of fake news circulating before the election, so the criticism continued.
Zuckerberg, like Google, is coming to terms with the responsibility his company has in filtering out the authentic news from the fake.
It is not a role he envisioned for his company.
But nearly 1.2 billion people log on to Facebook every day, and according to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of all Americans get their news through the social media network. Google reportedly accounts for about 40 percent of traffic to news sites.
Combined, that’s too large of a number to ignore.
The distribution of information is changing quickly, and we all have a role to play in how it is managed.
Legitimate news agencies will continue to try and bring the real news to the public, and fake news sites will continue to find a way to undermine that effort.
The news consumer will be the key to determining how the contest shakes out.