We’ve all seen it. Scrolling through your Facebook feed, and a post from your weird Aunt Anne pops up. The headline reads, “North Korea Declares War on United States.” You feel flushed with panic. You aren’t prepared for the Third World War. You’ve watched episodes of Doomsday Preppers, but you aren’t stocked with years worth of pickled eggs in an underground bunker. You click to read more. As you scroll through the article page, you notice spelling errors. As much as you distrust the commercialized mainstream media, you decide to double check with your go-to news sources. Then, you check again. Why is no one else reporting on this seemingly important story? That’s when you realize: You just spent 20 minutes of your life freaking out over a fake news story.
Don’t feel bad, this happens to the best of us. As proven in the recent election, fake news actually has a larger impact than we ever imagined. With this topic gaining concern, it’s no wonder that the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference dedicated an entire panel to tackling the issue. So, what can the American population do to improve on this issue? And is there any way to prevent it entirely?
According to our friends at Harvard, it seems that one solution is dedicating more time to improving media literacy at an elementary level.
“Teaching media literacy is happening in small pockets. And we can all contribute to that,” said Alicia Stewart, who launched Engage which is the unit that identified and incorporated under-covered news stories into network coverage. When we teach our younger generations the importance of fact-checking, we can hope that as these generations grow they will be less likely to promote and produce fake news.
Another option that was presented during the Fake News panel is to produce tools that would filter fake news from our feeds. Melissa Zimdars has dedicated her career to this solution. She is working with a team of librarians and computer programmers to create tools for navigating fake news. Her project is called OpenSource.
“How can we build in more algorithms to improve accuracy when it comes to conspiratorial news and misinformation?” asks Zimdars. Her approach to the problem is math. “What OpenSource does is builds a data machine that process every bit of information and it automatically screens out the false claims,” said Zimdars.
The panelists inspired several members of the audience to ask the question, “What is the role of the state when it comes to freedom of speech?”
This question, while important, is difficult to answer. Are we willing to give up our current degree of free speech to help support a more accurate flow of information? Or is this issue a byproduct of a freely spoken democracy, and simply a sign of our age of technology?
One thing is for sure, we all need to take accountability when consuming information. If you want to share something, fact check first. And never, ever, trust weird Aunt Anne.