Social media and the Internet have definitely changed the landscape of news. The Merriam-Webster dictionary gives the following definitions of news: 1) a report of recent events, previously unknown information or something having a specific influence or effect; 2) material reported in a newspaper or news periodical or on a newscast or matter that is newsworthy.
For sake of this brief article, I am not going to address the issue of “newsworthy.” That would be a whole different article!
I have long had apprehension about the amount of power held by the press; newspapers, television news, and radio. The ability of the press (media) to sway public opinion as it relates to legislation, candidates, businesses, reputations, morals, and many other matters gave them significant power on a local, state and national scale.
I must insert here that this is not an indictment on our local media for any past or present matters. My dealings with the press in this area have been fair and cordial. These folks are professional journalists and make an effort to be fair.
The balance of this article is about the new wave of public-opinion-making sources and the ability to create “fake news.”
A chart that ranks news sources on one axis from Complex to Sensational, and on the other axis from Liberal to Conservative, has gone viral of late (Google “fake news diagram” and click on Images). Whether or not one agrees with the placement of the news sources (for instance, The Wall Street Journal is listed as analytical to complex with minimal bias; whereas, MSNBC is skewed liberal and a bit less analytical and Fox News meets high standards, but is conservative) it raises the question of how reliable and researched is the news we receive, and how much of it is designed to influence, or confirm, one’s opinion versus meant to report facts and allow the reader to decide.
When the newspaper and evening news were the major sources of news people placed a great deal of reliance on these mediums to keep them informed and the journalists held to a high standard.
So where did fake news begin? Google, Facebook, Twitter, email? In a recent New York Times article it was pointed out that Google and Facebook are taking steps to curb the posting of fake news on their sites, so these folks are certainly aware that their platform is being used to perpetuate false news reporting.
The article quotes Ian Schafer, CEO and founder of Deep Focus, “Nothing drives clicks better than when a headline is exactly what people want to hear or believe.” This leads folks to read stories that support their thinking, whether it is accurate or not.
For those of us in the school business, fake news is particularly troubling. What once was circulated at the coffee shop, is now spread much faster through social media. And where a person can check the accuracy of a news article through Snopes.com or Factcheck.org, we don’t presently have such an option for Seneca schools.
So I would ask, please be wary of fake news. If you have a question about something that reportedly happened at school, please give us a call.
We will be happy to fact check for you!
Go Indians. #SenecaTPC
By Dr. Jim Cummins
(Dr. Jim Cummins is superintendent of the Seneca R-7 School District. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)