Finding the Flaws in Fake News

The phrases “fake news” and “alternative facts” continue to populate both the Twittersphere and CNN alike ever since the current president and his counselor began to use the term during the 2016 presidential campaign. These manipulated truths had a part in dictating the election, as many know, but they seemed to only affect voters on the right, I perceive, due to the right-centric targeting by Russian agents and the education gap. My assumptions were only partly true, and two years after they entered mainstream media, these oxymorons I previously thought ridiculous struck me lightly yet alarmingly. I sat on the couch in my common room scrolling through Twitter, watching one of my roommates play Fortnite—a stereotypical day in most college dorm rooms. The feed was made up of the usual variety: viral memes, quoted retweets, sports news, and politics. There was one tweet in particular that had 100,000 retweets and a video of Trump, so I stopped my incessant scrolling and took a look.

The video was about a minute, much too long for my attention span, so I just looked at the comment above it. The President asked, “Are there any Hispanics in the room?” The author of the Tweet then put in parentheses “crowd boos.” Trump then responds, “Not so many? That’s okay…”

I immediately turned to all of my roommates in disgust and explained the event, and they reacted the same way I did. Then the only moderate in my room, who leans conservative, said it was ridiculous, and believed even someone like Trump wouldn’t be that overt. I responded defiantly and actually watched the video to confirm my reaction. It turned out the quote was taken completely and irresponsibly out of context. Before he asked the controversial question, Trump was talking about high unemployment rates for Hispanics, and meant to frame it in a positive context, even if his supporters didn’t.

I didn’t get it. Everything lined up. The reporter who was covering the campaign rally was verified on Twitter, (although it is easier to get than I thought), and worked for an established, yet left-leaning, news website. The only “fake news” I’ve ever seen was constructed through fake news websites such as Conservativebyte.com or Bostonleader.com—the latter was shut down. They used completely made up stories, not simple omissions of text.

I talked to one of my friends weeks prior to this little incident, and he was trying to figure out how one might reveal fake news on Facebook given the effects it had on the election. We mentioned the general ways fake news is generated above, but neither of us thought about omission. It seems the only way to identify these cases is through our own discretion.

It could be said, of course, that this tweet wasn’t manipulative because the reporter posted it as a blip to summarize a point Trump made in the video, and any person who saw it should have watched the video themselves. But, the reporter knowingly misconstrued the information and counted on the fact that the digital, multiscreen generation’s attention spans are shortening. Obviously, this is not as dangerous as some other forms of false truths on platforms like Facebook, but it did prevent me from seeing the truth.

I am normally a skeptic, maybe even a cynic, so I always check the citations and the history of whoever presents information to me. But when something fits my perception of a person, like Trump, I immediately accept it without a thought. It’s my own truth, but not the factual truth—as ridiculously redundant that sounds—in this case.

We get so carried away with our own ideologies that we can shape portions of a story to manipulate into fact. It is extremely hard to remove biases because most consider them a solidified truth. I’ve always been against riding in the middle and choosing to be a libertarian or moderate because I don’t believe it benefits society and is contradictory. But, when looking at information, it is important not to rush to judgement, even it furthers your party’s goals or beliefs. It is imperative be to impartial to facts, or else the very definition of truth corrodes entirely.

Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor