In the light of the many grave incidents, including lynchings of innocent men, the citizenry has finally opened its eyes to the perils of propagating misinformation. It has been brought to the attention of many that they should neither be creating false news nor spreading it around. Interestingly, there are no legal mechanisms in place for the same. Since one is not just the creator of misinformation, but also its consumer, one needs to have a basic understanding of journalistic practices involved in handling such materials with little to no truth. The media uses different types of tools for spreading news, sometimes for sensationalisation and sometimes for propaganda-like motives. In current times, it has become important to inform ourselves of these tools and how they function to refrain from circulating fatalistic falsehoods. Mentioned below is a description of what constitutes and what doesn’t constitute fake news along with some insights about yellow journalism, which is another variety of misinformation that needs to be studied under the ambit of fake news.
It is difficult to point out which news is Yellow and which one is fake as both of them have similar characteristics. The terms are, in fact, often used interchangeably. But, it is necessary to differentiate between them to recognise which is which. Yellow Journalism is when the editors spice up the news to make it saucier, raunchier. Fake News is a lie. Even though both these phenomena are evil, yellow journalism at least has half a truth, even if it is sensationalized to inappropriate proportions.
On the other hand, Fake News is complete bullshit, so to say. It blooms and wilts in a lie. Historically, Fake News has always been used for destructive and divisive purposes. The whites who supported segregation often spread the news about how blacks are diseased so that support for segregated toilets, drinking water taps, etc. would increase; before the Revolt of 1857, several fake news against the British were spread to turn the dissatisfaction of Indian soldiers into a revolt. The legacy of fake news is adding fuel to racism, anti-immigration views and cultural division.
Fake News has existed since the emergence of politics. It gradually became a warring strategy and was used as such. Julius Caesar and Cassius created and spread the fake news about foreigners. It existed when the Church controlled the information that would pass on when Hitler and Roosevelt printed news to throw each other off during WW2.
The seed of Yellow Journalism was planted due to the competition between Pulitzer and Hearst a century ago. Today, it is a fully grown, fruit-giving tree because of how much it sells, its huge audience and the rising profits it earns. But, yellow journalism has taken a nastier form of Fake News. Just as it started to sell more newspapers by tapping on people’s negative reactions like outrage, anger, sadness, indignation, etc., fake news applied the same formula but with even less effort as no accurate reportage is required for its creation. An MIT Lab study has shown that fake news travels six times faster than real journalistic stories.
Social media and the state machinery are together working to make fake news a formidable weapon.
Google does not allow its advertisers to choose whether their advertisements will go on fake news sites or ethical journalism sites. Therefore, fake news sites have several ads on them. As explained above, such websites operate according to the concept of clickbait ‘journalism’. If a fake story goes viral, the owner of the site can earn a lot of cash as many will click on the ads in the story. Google earns in millions due to the fake news circuits and, hence, even with changed ad network rules, Google still allows a lot of fake news sites to use its ad network.
Even though fake news and yellow journalism are different, there impacts on the audience, at large, are the same. Both of these explicitly work to dumb down the readers and viewers, stop them from questioning the things they read and see, distract them from the real issues plaguing the world. Fake news and yellow journalism have become the armour and weapon of the government. To balance the argument, it is also important to note that sites like Facemata, User feeds, Crisp Thinking, etc. are working to disentangle the audience from the ropes of such evils. The question is, are they going to succeed with fake news and yellow journalism having revenues and investments in millions with stealth support from Google and Facebook?