The Era of Fake News: Polluting Our Info Pool

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Trump is right about one thing.

The history of journalism spans far before technology, way before television or the Internet. The beginnings of journalism, defined as the process of gathering and transmitting news and information, comes straight from the Old World when merchants and explorers would return to their homeland with news about the world abroad. Usually, the news originated from the ports, where seamen would share stories of what they witnessed while away. Peddlers and ear hustlers would hear these stories, leave the piers and then begin to tell their versions of these stories to their friends and family. If it was deemed an important occurrence, someone might tell a scribe and that scribe would write it down or even draw an illustration based on the information. The obvious problem with this kind of reporting is that it is highly unreliable. Why? Because, given the structure and flow of information in the Old World, the dissemination of the news had the attention of the community, and unless you were there at the origin of the story or you knew someone who was there, the guy reporting the news couldn’t be fact-checked. And so, he told his stories with eloquence, with proper enunciation and with a bit of embellishment here and there. His neighbors liked his updates, would follow him whenever he returned, and they shared his updates with their friends.

The printing press has to be the single most important invention of the last millennia. The press made it possible to transcribe information via ink onto multiple pieces of paper or cloth. In no time, the printing press spread throughout East Asia and Europe. Now, people were printing books and learning how to read and were being exposed to literacy and information in a way that was new and exciting. Eventually, people decided that news and current events could be printed, too.

The first newspaper in America began in 1690. It was titled, Publick Occurrences Both Foreign and Domestic. It lasted three days before the government shut it down for publishing privy content without expressed authority. The needle had been moved yet again though, and until the invention of the television, people got their news from newspapers.

Now, we can certainly delve into the various overt and covert intentions regarding print news, including its use as a propaganda machine, as a tool of hatemongering or even as a method of programming, and one could find truth in many of those assertions. However, journalism as a trade and a career comes with rules that are to be abided. The five core principles of journalism are: truth and accuracy, independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity and accountability. If a journalist writes an article and is mindful of these core principles, then it can be said that the journalist is reporting in an ethical manner.

But what happens when the person writing the article isn’t even a journalist?

The digital world is an ever-evolving one. What exists within the space of the Internet today may either be expanded upon or disbanded completely next year, but the one glowing truth is that through its use, humans are ingesting more information than they have ever had before. `But when you eat too much, you’re liable to have a stomachache, especially if everything you’re eating isn’t good for you.

Weblogging, or blogging, was barely a thing 20 years ago. There were 23 blogs in the entire World Wide Web in 1999. Today, there are over 50 million blogs on the Internet, a number that continues to grow every day. Every blogger isn’t a journalist, but blogs are now seen as tools to disseminate news and information, pretty much on par with traditional newspapers. The line between what should and shouldn’t be considered news outlets is becoming more and more blurry. The fact is that most online news sites have blogging arms to them, and those blogs are often cited as newsworthy, even if the writer knows nothing about journalism, even if the article was written not as an informative essay but with the expressed intent to marginalize or demonize a person, group or ideal. These articles get shared through social media, discussed as news items and ingested as part of the information upload each of us has every day when we log onto our desktops, laptops and smartphones. We are losing the ability to tell the difference between what is news and what is a person embellishing their angle to make their point a valid one. Freshwater is flowing from the same spigot as the sewage, and yet we wait happily with our empty cups every day yearning to fill them, caring not about what may flow from the faucet when we turn it on because we’ve stopped being able to tell the difference.

Trump is right about one thing. Fake News is permeating throughout our information pool.