Fake news has real consequences

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Photos by Michelle Rivas

Jennifer Napier-Pearce, editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, taught students and faculty how to combat the term “fake news,” Feb. 5 in the Classroom Building.

“The real meaning of fake news [is] false stories presented as facts for financial or political gain,” Napier-Pearce said. “Fake news has real consequences.”

Jennifer Napier-Pearce discusses fake news versus real journalism.

Napier-Pearce shared real-life examples of how people react and respond to fake news stories. A notable fake news story shared was that of an active shooter situation in Washington, D.C. A man from South Carolina believed a fake report that a child sex abuse ring was being operated by Hillary Clinton from a pizzeria. His confidence in the report prompted him to fire three shots on site in an effort to bring the owners to justice. Though the story was false, its consequences were dangerously real.

Additionally, the term fake news poses a danger to the democratic process of the U.S.. Napier-Pearce cited a Pew Research poll tracking the perception of journalist in their role as “America’s Watch Dogs” among citizens. The poll showed a 5 percent dip among U.S. adults that a journalist’s criticism is to keep politicians from doing things that they shouldn’t; in addition; U.S. adults perception that journalistic criticism actually keeps politicians from doing their job rose 4 percent..

This perception has lead to a dangerous political development. Napier-Pearce said that there’s a great partisan divide: 89 percent of Democrats feel that the media should be doing more to watch political leaders, while 42 percent of Republicans believe that the media is not empowering leaders to do their job, according to another Pew Research poll.

Napier-Pearce attributed the increase in usage of fake news and the declining confidence in journalism to the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.

Students listen to Jennifer Napier-Pearce on how to decipher fake news.

Fake news has influenced many events from its original use in propaganda in 1622 to the onset of “yellow journalism” in the late 1800’s, all the way to its prevalence now in 2018 on social media, said Napier-Pearce.

According to the Society of Professional Journalists, journalists seek truth and report it; journalists act independently; journalists are accountable and transparent; and journalists minimize harm.

Independent voices like The Salt Lake Tribune, hold themselves to these high standards of reporting, Napier-Pearce said

According to Napier-Pearce, readers can verify the truth of a headline by verifying the source, checking the date and understanding the whole story. Readers should check the author as well and evaluate if the writer has a bias. Fact checking websites like Politifact and Media Bias Fact Check can also help verify reports.

Students were left to reflect on a quote by Thomas Jefferson, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”