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Lucas Gonzalez
Lucas Gonzalez

Fake News

And some Americans say they themselves have shared fake news. Overall, 23% say they have ever shared a made-up news story, with 14% saying they shared a story they knew was fake at the time and 16% having shared a story they later realized was fake.

Fake News


When it comes to how to prevent the spread of fake news, many Americans expect social networking sites, politicians and the public itself to do their share. Fully 45% of U.S. adults say government, politicians and elected officials bear a great deal of responsibility for preventing made-up stories from gaining attention, on par with the 43% that say this of the public and the 42% who say this of social networking sites and search engines. Although the overall portion of Americans who place responsibility on each is about equal, individuals have different perspectives on how that responsibility should be distributed. Just 15% of Americans place a great deal of responsibility on all three of these groups, while a majority (58%) feels instead that one or two of them bear a great deal of responsibility.

While fake news became an issue during the highly charged 2016 presidential election campaign, Republicans and Democrats are about equally likely to say that these stories leave Americans deeply confused about current events. About six-in-ten Republicans say completely made-up news causes a great deal of confusion (57%), and about the same portion of Democrats say the same (64%). And although independents outpace Republicans (69% say fake news causes a great deal of confusion), they are on par with Democrats. This perception is also mostly consistent across education, race, gender and age, though there is some difference by income. While a majority of those who make less than $30,000 a year say fake news causes a great deal of confusion (58%), this is a lower proportion than among those who make between $30,000 and $75,000 (65%) and those who make $75,000 or more (73%).

Again, there are no differences between partisans: 36% of Republicans, 41% of Democrats and 40% of independents say they are very confident in their ability to recognize news that is made up. There are also no consistent differences in who feels very confident in terms of age, gender, income or race.

Nearly one-in-three U.S. adults (32%) say they often see fake political news online, while 39% sometimes see such stories and 26% hardly ever or never do. In a rare instance of demographic differences, whites are more likely than blacks and Hispanics to say they often see fake news, and those with annual incomes of at least $75,000 are more likely than those who make less than $75,000 to say so.

Some Americans say they have contributed directly to the distribution of fake news by sharing it themselves. About a quarter (23%) say they have ever shared such stories, while roughly equal portions say they have shared made-up news knowingly and unknowingly.

Fully 16% of U.S. adults say they have shared fake political news inadvertently, only discovering later that it was entirely made up. This is more prevalent among those who say they often see such fake political news stories (22%) than among those who say they see fake news less often (13%), though no consistent demographic differences emerge.

Taking these two questions together, about a quarter (23%) of U.S. adults say they have ever shared a fake political news story online, whether knowingly or unknowingly, with 7% sharing both when they did and did not know a story was made-up, 9% sharing only when they did not know, and 7% sharing only when they did know.

If the spread of fake news is a problem, who bears responsibility for addressing it? In the month since the presidential election, social networking sites and search engines have taken steps to address the issue. And there have been calls for the government and the public itself to take action as well.

There is also a partisan difference on how much responsibility the government has to prevent the spread of fake news. While about half of both Republicans (48%) and Democrats (49%) say the government has a great deal of responsibility, only about four-in-ten independents (38%) say so.

Those who say they often see made-up political news online are more likely to say each of the three groups has a great deal of responsibility. About half (53%) place a great deal of responsibility on politicians (compared with 41% who see fake political news online less often), on social networking sites and search engines (53% vs. 37%) and on the public (51% vs. 39%).

This story is adapted from an episode of Life Kit, NPR's podcast with tools to help you get it together. To listen to this episode, play the audio at the top of the page or subscribe. For more, sign up for the newsletter and follow @NPRLifeKit on Twitter.

Take in any new information, whether it's the news or on social media or from a buddy at happy hour, with a bit of doubt. Expect the source to prove their work and show how they came to their conclusion. And try to compare information from a number of different outlets, even if you have a favorite.

Misinformation is most effective on hot-button issues and immediate news. Ask yourself: Is this a complicated subject, something that's hitting an emotional trigger? Or is it a breaking news story where the facts aren't yet able to be assembled? If the answer is yes, then you need to be ultra-skeptical.

"Fake news" is "fabricated information that mimics news media content in form but not in organizational process or intent. Fake-news outlets, in turn, lack the news media's editorial norms and processes for ensuring the accuracy and credibility of information. Fake news overlaps with other information disorders, such as misinformation (false or misleading information) and disinformation (false information that is purposely spread to deceive people)." [David M. J. Lazer, et al., "The Science of Fake News," Science 09 Mar 2018: Vol. 359, Issue 6380, pp. 1094-1096.].

Fake news is frequently used to describe a political story which is seen as damaging to an agency, entity, or person. However, as seen in the last of the three citations given above, it is by no means restricted to politics, and seems to have currency in terms of general news.

One of the reasons that fake news is such a recent addition to our vocabulary is that the word fake is also fairly young. Fake was little used as an adjective prior to the late 18th century. But we obviously had fake news before the 1890s, so what did we call it? There was doubtless a wide range of expressions that people have resorted to when they felt the need to indicate that the newspapers had been fibbing, but one of the most common ones was false news. We can see this collocation in use as far back as the 16th century.

President Trump first tweeted the words "fake news" on December 10, and since then has lobbed accusations of "fake news" (or more often "FAKE NEWS") over Twitter 66 times, referring to everything from the salacious Russia dossier to a lack of coverage of his crowd sizes.

But as printing expanded, so flowed fake news, from spectacular stories of sea monsters and witches to claims that sinners were responsible for natural disasters. The Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 was one of the more complex news stories of all time, with the church and many European authorities blaming the natural disaster on divine retribution against sinners. An entire genre of fake news pamphlets (relações de sucessos) emerged in Portugal, claiming that some survivors owed their lives to an apparition of the Virgin Mary. These religiously inspired accounts of the earthquake sparked the famed Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire to attack religious explanations of natural events, and also made Voltaire into an activist against fake religious news.

Jean Calas was convicted on the rumor-fueled testimony and was publicly and gruesomely tortured before being executed. Horrified at the atrocity, Voltaire wrote his own counterattacks dissecting the absurdity that young Calas would have a full understanding of the meaning of conversion and that his peaceable father would hang him for it. The Calas story eventually sparked outrage against such fake legal stories, torture and even execution. It became a touchstone for the Enlightenment itself.

The difficulty of unmasking and eliminating fake news is due also to the fact that many people interact in homogeneous digital environments impervious to differing perspectives and opinions. Disinformation thus thrives on the absence of healthy confrontation with other sources of information that could effectively challenge prejudices and generate constructive dialogue; instead, it risks turning people into unwilling accomplices in spreading biased and baseless ideas. The tragedy of disinformation is that it discredits others, presenting them as enemies, to the point of demonizing them and fomenting conflict. Fake news is a sign of intolerant and hypersensitive attitudes, and leads only to the spread of arrogance and hatred. That is the end result of untruth.

Yet preventing and identifying the way disinformation works also calls for a profound and careful process of discernment. We need to unmask what could be called the "snake-tactics" used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place. This was the strategy employed by the "crafty serpent" in the Book of Genesis, who, at the dawn of humanity, created the first fake news (cf. Gen 3:1-15), which began the tragic history of human sin, beginning with the first fratricide (cf. Gen 4) and issuing in the countless other evils committed against God, neighbour, society and creation. The strategy of this skilled "Father of Lies" (Jn 8:44) is precisely mimicry, that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring arguments.

What is at stake is our greed. Fake news often goes viral, spreading so fast that it is hard to stop, not because of the sense of sharing that inspires the social media, but because it appeals to the insatiable greed so easily aroused in human beings. The economic and manipulative aims that feed disinformation are rooted in a thirst for power, a desire to possess and enjoy, which ultimately makes us victims of something much more tragic: the deceptive power of evil that moves from one lie to another in order to rob us of our interior freedom. That is why education for truth means teaching people how to discern, evaluate and understand our deepest desires and inclinations, lest we lose sight of what is good and yield to every temptation. 041b061a72


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