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What Is Fake News?

By Cassandra Vega (‘20)

Photo courtesy of Wix

Fake news is a term that has been thrown around by the current presidential administration and has catapulted the entire country into a frenzy of mistrust and denial.

President Donald J. Trump had gone after the media even before the infamous 2016 election, criticizing the so called “liberal media” for brainwashing the country into agreeing with their point of view.

During a speech in Kansas City in late July of 2018, he said to the crowd, "Stick with us. Don't believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news. ... What you're seeing and what you're reading is not what's happening."

After all the remarks he made and still makes as the most powerful person of the free world about his opposing party, he told his supporters that anything that was not said or verified by him is a lie.

Fake news exists. There is no argument from either the Republicans or the Democrats about that. The issue lies in the fact that people on both sides regularly disregard news with which they disagree.

Human bias is impossible to avoid, in all of literature and history the answers are constantly changing based on who tells the story.

For instance, the Confederate flag is viewed as a stain on the American dream sold to millions, yet for many it is also a symbol of a rebellion that is undeniably part of American history.

Confirmation bias occurs when a person treats life like a Golden Corral buffet, picking and choosing what is best for them at that particular time. However, life is more of a recipe than a restaurant, as everything that happens is important to the final product. All the information must be taken into account to form an opinion; forming the opinion first and finding the facts afterwards breeds more assumption and ignorance.

In the past, to fix a mistake in the newspapers, journalists would have to print a retraction that usually accompanied some explanation and apology. This would set their career back since as a journalist, the responsibility lies in getting the information right, not first.

In this new age of social media and information spreading faster than ever before, media outlets and their employees seem to value speed over quality. Since confirmation bias allows for people to believe their opinions are fact, they never question the information they receive -- even if it is later proven misleading or flat out wrong.

The fake news industry feeds off this anger and distrust by promoting material that people want to read, not the actual facts. This continual disregard for truth is going in the direction depicted in the Washington Post motto, “Democracy Dies in Darkness”.

Teachers at South Brunswick High School are doing their best to educate these teens who will inherit a twisted reality once they leave these walls. One teacher in particular is Mr. Marc Babich, who has been teaching Global Studies for over 20 years.

He defines fake news as “any source that intentionally fabricates, deceives or grossly misrepresents a news story.”

He also went on to explain how this boom of fake news in the last 8-10 years has been negatively impacting our society, citing incidents like “pizzagate.” This situation proved extremely dangerous as a man fired at customers in a pizzeria after a fake news story went viral saying that Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager were running a child sex ring in the back of the Comet Ping Pong restaurant.

As a Global Studies teacher and an informed citizen, Mr. Babich is active in his search for the truth and passes it on to his students with a conversation on fake news early on in the school year.

One of his current students, Alvin Peng, found the lesson to be “really helpful” and pointed out the “worrying situation” between the press and the White House recently.

Jim Acosta of CNN had his press pass taken away due to an altercation between him and the president during a briefing on November 8, resulting in a CNN lawsuit against the White House.

Fox News has thrown its hat in the ring by releasing a statement in support of renewing Acosta’s credentials. These prominent media outlets have been receiving scrutiny for years by various presidential administrations, but this latest development has left many feeling as though their First Amendment rights are in jeopardy.

Fake news has been around since the first person bent the truth. Though this fear of fake news has escalated to dangerous levels, hopefully readers can take it upon themselves to verify the stories they read and to hesitate before trusting anything with a bold headline.

To prevent media bias from seeping in as well, readers can make an effort to analyze the things they hear, or use sites like AllSides that identify where the bias is and do their best to state only the facts.

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