BY ALEX MILLMAN
In 2016, WTOE 5 News wrote that Pope Francis made history by publicly endorsing Donald Trump as president for the U.S. election. According to CNBC, this post reached up to 960,000 engagements on Facebook, despite its inaccuracy.
WTOE 5 News has since shut down, yet the website was notorious for spreading false and satirical information posed as reputable news stories. If a claim from a fictional website can generate such engagement, what is the future of journalism and how can the average person decipher factual information?
The rise of fake news has made it increasingly difficult to tell the difference between the truth, opinion and utter lies.
The term “media literacy” has recently gained popularity, leaving some wondering if it should be introduced into school curriculum. The Center for Media Literacy defines media literacy as a tool that helps students become competent, critical and literate in all media forms so that they can control their interpretation of what they see. Oct. 24 marks the start of official Media Literacy Week in the U.S.
Media literacy is something that is beginning to be introduced to students because it is imperative that users are able to filter out the truth from lies, something that wasn’t needed fifteen years ago.
The marketplace of ideas theory, credited to John Stuart Mill, is the basis for the First Amendment. It favors the free flow of information without any censorship. Then, over time the public will naturally filter out false opinion and information, allowing truth to prevail.
Yet, modern technology, like social media, has dramatically transformed the way news is reported and received, threatening the nature of Stuart’s theory. Some wonder if social media is redefining what it means to be a journalist. Traditional journalism is built on reporters who uphold the values of the press and serve the public by providing truth through reputable sources. Reputable news organizations value accuracy, accountability and fairness. These values adopted by reporters are important in the presentation of accurate news. However, social media users do not necessarily always uphold these values.
Social media has had a profound effect on journalism by rapidly increasing the quantity of news being produced and consumed. Users of platforms like Twitter or Facebook have the power to provide immediate updates and participate in the act of breaking news through their cell phones.
“Social media has allowed people, the news consumer, to participate in the process, either through getting story ideas, or just from saying this is right or this is wrong,” Lydia Timmins, a journalism professor at the university, said. “And that has fundamentally changed how journalists are gatekeepers or really are not gatekeepers anymore. There isn’t one person deciding what’s news and what isn’t. Everyone’s deciding for themselves.”
Contrary to how the flow of news was in 1987, when Timmins began working as a television news producer, there is no longer a way to keep information concealed. Without any gatekeepers, social media has allowed all kinds of information to be constantly shared, regardless of a producer’s input.
“It has really allowed anyone to be a content creator and anyone to become a ‘journalist,’” Brittney Horn, regional editor for crime and social justice at Delaware Online, said.
Similar to Horn’s perspective, other journalists worry that there are dangers of social media’s presence in journalism. Recently the lines have been blurred between who is the journalist and who is the average user. This issue becomes more serious when the prevalence of unresearched news is viralized and morphs into fake news.
“Disinformation and misinformation are words that I feel like we did not talk about 10 years ago and now are part of every journalist’s vocabulary,” Horn said. “As journalists, we’re ridiculed every single day about what we publish and not publish. There are decisions made every single day about the information that we promote.”
Horn explained frustrations many journalists feel towards this change in their industry. The rise of social media has also increased the criticism of journalism and held news organizations to higher standards, yet social media users have little to no standards when it comes to what they publish.
“The scary thing about social media is that people don’t necessarily do the vetting of their sources, and they don’t necessarily go check out ‘is there truth to this?’” Horn said. “It can be very frustrating to see people who not might not necessarily backup their reporting, backup their findings, to post and then be believed.”
Alexandra is a staff reporter at The Review. Her opinions are her own and do not represent the majority opinion of The Review staff. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.