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Fake news

Dana Sutherland  |  06 February 2018

fun illustration of young couple with lots of thought bubbles Pope Francis has dedicated this year's World Communications Day message to the issue of 'fake news'. We asked one of our young writers to explore why it's an important issue.

Fake news isn't a 'new' issue. It's been around for years, as people use media to influence the way a certain person or topic is viewed. It's especially common in celebrity gossip and election campaigns, but it can be found in every walk of life.

It's important that we as consumers take responsibility to be more aware of what we're reading and listening to, on all media platforms.

First we should become aware of why people spread fake news. It seems highly unethical, right? But some might be convinced that its necessary to mislead people against a certain view. Maybe they're trying to promote a cause they believe in, but feel they need to discredit their opponent. The point is that fake news essentially serves a purpose: to influence the audience to think and see the world a certain way.

During the 2016 US presidential election, several publications featured the headline - 'Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president'. It was, however, a fake news story. But such a story - shared widely on social media platforms that aren't controlled by any fact checking - can be hugely influential as people decide where to place their vote.

Avoid 'fake news' traps

Here are some tips on how to avoid falling into 'fake news' traps.

1. Educate yourself on the topic

The first thing you learn about a topic can be hugely influential, even if it's wrong. If the first apple you ever taste is bitter, you're probably going to be discouraged from eating another and forever you'll see apples as gross.

But being open to learning means understanding that your first impressions can be wrong. If people have always told you apples are really good, you may try it again and then be pleased with your next apple. In the same way, if you've eaten apples every day, and you have that one bad apple, you know that it's bad because you know what apples should taste like.

Fake news works in a similar way. If you already know the topic well, you aren't as likely to be swayed from the opinion you've built by just one story. On the other hand, if you don't know what you're reading about, you should look for reliable information that supports or doesn't support that view. Be open to learning more.

2. How good is their fact-checking?

Most sources that spread fake news are blogs or sites set up for that purpose. Check out whether other, more credible news sites, are also reporting the story. They can fall for fake news, too, but usually their fact checking is a lot more rigorous.

illustration of newspaper 3. Look at other posts or articles from the source of the story

The source you're looking at may have a long history of making incorrect or biased statements. It will become obvious by looking at the other posts if there is a trend in opinion behind the same clouded judgement, such as prejudices against certain groups.

4. Find other sources that support or discredit the story

If you search the story over the internet, if it is truly controversial, it will have been addressed by other sources and news companies.

If the story is about a person directly, such as a celebrity or the Pope, in some instances, it will be addressed directly to correct false statements.

Once you've become more aware of the scenario at hand, you make a decision whether or not you think this story is true and if there really is any merit to the points that are being made.


Pope Francis' prayer for truth

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
You are faithful and trustworthy; may our words be seeds of goodness for the world:
where there is shouting, let us practise listening
where there is confusion, let us inspire harmony
where there is ambiguity, let us bring clarity;
where there is exclusion, let us offer solidarity;
where there is sensationalism, let us use sobriety;
where there is superficiality, let us raise real questions;
where there is prejudice, let us awaken trust;
where there is hostility, let us bring respect;
where there is falsehood, let us bring truth.

Dana Sutherland is a student at Bethany College, Hurstville, NSW.


Topic tags: faithinthemedia, valuesandmoraldecision-making, healthycommunitylife

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