Not everything on the Internet is true

Advice from Andy

By on November 5, 2014

As print-based newspaper subscriptions dwindle—causing reputable news organizations to turn to more elaborate Internet-based dissemination models—readers increasingly use digital technology to stay updated on local, national and international news.

According to a Pew Research Center study, daily newspaper subscription fell 30 percent between 2003 and 2010. During the same time, Sunday circulation fell by 26 percent.

Advertisers have taken note of the slide in print newspaper circulations; print advertising revenue dropped by 50 percent between 2003 and 2010. Conversely —and not surprisingly—Internet advertising revenue has more than doubled; the reduction of print advertising revenue and the subsequent increase of internet advertising revenue highlights an important trend: People are reading the news online.

Some may view the news industry’s change in distribution platform as beneficial, (environmentalists may cheer as paper and ink are saved) but using the Internet to display stories from reputable news organizations—on a medium known for public participation—raises a difficult dilemma for some readers: What website should I believe?

The Internet—a medium capable of tracking the precise number of times a consumer views a website—thrives on advertising revenue; it is a click-based economy.

The quest to inflate total site traffic–an effort aimed to increase advertising revenue–leads some websites to act as faux news websites, websites bent on constructing stories to excite increased traffic. The practice—aside from being unethical— sways readers to interpret fictional postings as true news stories; inaccurate stories, despite the sensationalism, take on the appearance of actual news. Websites take advantage of the uninformed and profit from their ignorance.

When the sensationalized becomes news, and the sensational news is alarming, panic arises. In a panic-induced fervor, people post the fictional story (although they don’t realize it yet) on Facebook; the story is read, believed and reposted—this process continues unabated.

The other day, while scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, I noticed an old middle school teacher of mine posted a link to an obviously fictitious (but not to him) article claiming an imminent six days of darkness in December. After posting the article, a friend of his commented “I need to look into this,” while another commented, “I am freaking out.” Readers regard the fictional article as factual. In the process, the readers view the website to read the article—an act that fuels advertisement revenue for the creator of the fictional content.

 

By reading and believing the article, readers positively reinforce the publication of false news content by inadvertently increasing monetary gains for the publisher; it is a cycle of despicable ethics; a cycle lacking any moral baseline, but since money can be made, the cycle perpetuates.

With an abundant amount of faux news sites across the Internet, here are some tips to follow before believing online “news” content:

 Fact check. If the story sounds crazy, chances are, it is; a quick Google search can easily confirm or deny these suspicions.

Stay mainstream. Historically reputable news organizations (The New York Times, Washington Post, et cetera) hold high journalistic standards and aim to always get the story straight—posting a fictitious story would be detrimental to their public images.

In the Internet age, the boundary between fact and fiction blurs; the boundary between rationality and irrationality, however, shouldn’t—one must not believe all content posted online.

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