Fake news may not be as common as you think

The cry of “fake news” is heard often these days. To be sure, it is a real problem, but exacerbating the issue is the fact that what actually entails fake news is ill-defined and is widely misunderstood.

There is a a spectrum of issues with online content and giving it all a blanket label of “fake news” is inaccurate and does a disservice to legitimate journalists doing a good job.

Some issues with online content includes:

1) Outdated news, and 2) Opinion columns or editorials that aren’t clearly marked as opinion.

With social media, a news story can circulate online for years, being shared over and over again. It can confuse or alarm people who read it without checking the date first to see if it’s current, but that doesn’t make it fake news.

A lot of people have trouble distinguishing between fact and opinion online.

A high-quality news source will have opinion pieces clearly marked, and its news articles, also clearly marked, won’t contain descriptive language that denotes an opinion or in other ways interjects an opinion in the article.

There are exceptions. It is more permissible, for example, for a reporter to write a sports team had a “great game,” but should not write that a politician is running a “great campaign.”

Some information can also be attributed to observation or to general knowledge, which is perfectly acceptable in journalistic standards.

An article that has a source sharing a point of view you disagree with (such as climate change) is not fake news.

Publishing an article with information put out by a high profile person is not an endorsement of what was said. It’s published because that is what news is: interesting people doing interesting things.

Another issue is 3) inaccurate news, which can fall into the category of legitimate news or fake news.

Even the best journalists can make mistakes. A mistake in an article doesn’t automatically make it fake. A legitimate source will take steps to correct mistakes, however.

In this day-and-age where anyone with a laptop can whip up a “story” and call themselves a citizen journalist, what makes a news source legitimate?

A legitimate news source will be a member of a governing organization that upholds its members to journalistic standards and holds them accountable (such as the Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association of which Ponoka News is a member), and will employ trained journalists.

It should also hopefully have a long-established reputation of trust in the community it serves.

So what, then, is fake news?

If a story is entirely made up or includes fabricated details, it is fake news. Unsubstantiated details could be fake news, but may just fall under the category of poor reporting.

A common form of fake news is online “articles” lauding the benefits of a product or service — that’s advertising masquerading as news. These often use a celebrity to endorse a product and should not be trusted as legitimate.

Promoted articles from a legitimate source are a different matter — those fall under the category of advertorials, which are not news, but written advertisements.

Another tricky culprit to catch is bias.

Good ol’ Google defines it as, “Bias is disproportionate weight in favour of or against an idea or thing, usually in a way that is closed-minded, prejudicial, or unfair. Biases can be innate or learned.”

Simply calling an opinion piece biased because it presents an opinion or because you don’t agree with it is absurd. Neither is it fake news.

The whole idea of opinion pieces are about choosing a stance on a topic and presenting it.

It’s easy to call an opinion piece you disagree with biased, but ask yourself: does the author write on a variety of topics and consider facts and current events when presenting an argument? Are the arguments backed up with facts or are the facts readily known to the public?

News sources aren’t created equal, either.

Being a legitimate news source doesn’t automatically make it a high-quality news source.

Certain outlets have a reputation for sensationalizing news to draw in more readers. Although the news stories are real — real things happening to real people — that doesn’t make them a quality news source.

If a news outlet is consistently interjecting opinions into news articles, shows a clear bias in news writing, or tends to over-dramatize news articles on a regular basis, you should find something else to read.

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