Does ‘fake news’ phenomenon have lasting power?


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Is fake news a new concept? Not really.

But these days a bogus story can gain traction faster in part due to the rising popularity of social media sharing.

Then there’s confirmation bias; a selective way of thinking in which people tend to look for things that confirm preexisting beliefs.

Some argue that sorting through the maze of information out there and figuring out what’s legitimate is not that difficult if you’re a critical thinker armed with a fact-checking mindset.

Just hours after returning from his first trip abroad as president, President Trump tweeted out about the so called “fake news media.”

“Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names…it is very possible that those sources don’t exist but are made up by fake news writers,” the president tweeted. “Fake news is the enemy!”

Last month, legendary investigative journalist Bob Woodward of Watergate fame fired back at the notion that the mainstream media is fake.

“Mr. President, the media is not fake news,” Woodward said in his remarks during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.

According to The Hill, one recent poll (Harvard-Harris) found that 65 percent of voters believe there’s a lot of fake news in the mainstream media.

Veteran journalists David Shribman and Cindy Skrzycki lectured about the fake news phenomenon in April at Canisius College.

Shribman, a Pulitzer Prize winning-journalist and executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says honest mistakes shouldn’t be confused with fake news.

“I’m not sure there’s ever been a news report that was fully 100 percent correct, 100 percent accurate. But the important thing is that the intent be accurate, that the motivation be pure and that the work be serious,” Shribman told News 4.

Journalist Cindy Skrzycki, a University of Pittsburgh senior lecturer, believes the fake news issue is fading.

“I think people have realized that now that the election is over and the press covered fake news so much and talked about how fake news is created, people are much more aware of it and I think they’re much more skeptical,” Skrzycki said.

Labeling false claims or fabrications as fake news is something that “resonates with people,” according to Kevin Hardwick, professor of political science at Canisius College.

Hardwick, a Republican Erie County Legislator, believes President Trump is the first to really put a name on it.

“I think as long as Donald Trump is president he’s going to be using that tag, fake news, on anything that he might not agree with. And the reason he can get away with that is because it resonates with people, because people have seen evidence of it over time,” Hardwick said.

He added, “I don’t think we’ll ever get back to the point we were at when I was growing up, when you were growing up, where Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America. I mean who has that level of trust anymore?”

Buffalo Teachers Federation president Phil Rumore argues that fake news attacks against legitimate news organizations tend to undermine the ability to govern and confuse news consumers.

“It’s not dialogue anymore. It’s not intellectual dialogue or disagreement. It is ad hominem attacks,” Rumore said.

Rumore, who has spent a lifetime in the field of education, thinks the debate swirling around fake news could serve as a springboard for more critical thinking in the classroom.

“I think this is something that we should start talking about in all school districts with all of our students to say look, let’s step back and take a look at this. What’s going on here?”

Rumore added, “Just because somebody says that’s not true. How do you make the decision as to whether this makes sense or whether this is true or false?”

“We should be teaching kids how to think critically, not just to agree with me but how to debate with one another and disagree with one another.”

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