News media has long been regarded as the ‘fourth estate’, charged with calling to account and keeping watch over the three pillars of Westminster systems of government – the legislature, executive and judiciary. Boundaries of law, ethics and professional responsibility have traditionally guided what and how media outlets report news, albeit with some startling exceptions.
Bloggers and Social Media participants don’t necessarily consider themselves part of the fourth estate, and in some instances deliberately seek to differentiate their offerings from traditional media sources. Some have referred to these new media participants as the fifth estate, but the reference is new and it’s possible that many blogs and social media participants may reject the categorisation.
This provides part of the problem with fake news: as consumers of news, we may consider it with a degree of suspicion with various common sayings telling us that we should believe only half of what we read, nothing of what we hear etc, but subconsciously many of us are aware of checks and balances being applied to what is reported, before it is actually reported.
As consumers of digital news and information from non-traditional media sources, many of us could be lulled into a potentially false sense of security as a result of our subconscious knowledge of boundaries applicable to the traditional media, and might make assumptions without even realising it about the accuracy of what is reported on digital media. Assumptions that could easily be wrong.
This is why you should care about whether or not you’re reading fake news:
- It undermines the integrity of our public debates. Infiltration of credible researched and confirmed news sources poses a significant threat of manipulating public opinion and perception. Findings by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute suggest that Facebook users engaged more with fake news than mainstream news in the days preceding the US election.
Engaging with emerging or alternative news items rather than mainstream news isn’t the problem but do you know how they gather and report information? Do you know if and how the information has been confirmed to separate it from pure fiction or opinion lacking a defensible basis?
If you read about carnage caused by opposition forces in a war torn nation don’t you want whether or not the carnage spoken of actually happened and was actually caused by those accused as opposed to believing a story attached to a manipulated picture taken in a different war zone at a different time?
- It might be an automated bot (or similar) and not news at all. If you receive a breaking news alert that is generated by a computer operated by someone pushing a particular viewpoint or agenda other than reporting actual events as they happen, would you want to know this?
- It can sometimes give the appearance of being credible news, when it’s really just poor quality information lacking the consideration, objectivity and context that would make it news. As a consumer of this information, don’t you want to know that when you think you’re reading news, you’re not actually being provided an imitation of what you though you were getting?