For most of us, signing onto Facebook daily, or in some cases several times a day, leaves us inundated with the good, the bad and the ugly the world has to offer.
Over the past year, I’ve watched a trend happening that has me concerned.
Whether you have 100 or over 700 friends on social media, your wall is quickly filled with thoughts of friends and acquaintances, shares of “news stories,” uplifting videos of today’s inspirational speakers most of us have never seen before, and of course the neverending political posts that have come with the latest election and are still going on as we come close to the presidential inauguration.
Odds are that you aren’t going to agree with every post or share, but how do you decide which ones are worth clicking, reading or commenting on.
I’ve done fairly well filtering out the craziness that is just too much for me to take.
I don’t care to see pictures of animal or child abuse, so I make sure I hide any content from those providers. That was easy.
I don’t care to see biased rants for or against groups who incite and instill hate among their followers. Again, that was easy. The not so easy part comes when your friends or family, the ones you truly care for and respect, posts stories that make you question your beliefs, their beliefs, or the world around you.
Part of me finds the viewpoints interesting and even educational.
The problem comes with the shares from fake news sites. They get posted to one wall and quickly the shares multiply and you see them on friends’ after friends’ walls and you wonder if anyone bothered to read the whole story. Did they question where the sources came from? Did they see the small print at the bottom of the web page that states the website is satire?
As a journalist, I am tasked with finding the truth. I don’t interview one side and write the article without verifying the content. I oftentimes find myself reading far more content that I can put into an article.
As a journalist, it is my job to be honest, fair, unbiased, and have ethical and moral standards, which I try my darnedest to uphold in my writing.
As traditional news sources dwindle with the readily accessible “free content” of the web, I worry about my profession. How does the average person know the difference between an unbiased media report and one written totally as click bait to drive up advertising revenue for the author, who is making things up as they go along from the comfort of their own home just to make money?
I also wonder what makes people click on articles whose headlines are so obviously fake and then believe the content that falls under it.
Where will our world be in five, 10, or 15 years? What damage is being done by these fake news sites?
I understand that people have always been interested in gossip magazines and papers that you find in the checkout of the local supermarket, but they’ve always been balanced by the true journalistic endeavors that report on facts.
The problem lies when people read these articles, take them at face value, and share them and even quote them without ever questioning the content and where it came from.
I spend many of my non-working hours researching other people’s posts. Are they true? Are they partially true? I’m a lover of knowledge, a nerd if you want to call me that. I think learning is the greatest pastime there is.
When I research something and find the other side of the story, or the proof it’s completely false, I typically post that content under the fake news link.
I don’t want to come across as a know-it-all or some kind of “smarty pants.” I just worry that the spread of fake news, which is often the start of disagreement or dissent, will spread and touch on the lives of my friends in negative ways. I’ve already seen it happen, and it’s becoming more and more common.
So my challenge to you is to think before you share. Will the share do more harm than good and does it have journalistic integrity?
• Heidi Litchfield is the senior news writer for the Morris Herald-News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.