Why you shouldn’t believe everything you read online

Why you shouldn’t believe everything you read online

Over the past 10 years, there has been a seismic shift in the way West Australians get their news, and the news outlets have been playing a giant game of catch up in the effort to adapt.

It’s not news to anyone that newspapers are folding all over the world, many shrinking in size until there’s nothing left. Faced with declining hard copy sales, The West Australian has also had to adapt, switching more focus to online news and making a digital version of the paper available to be read on a tablet or smartphone.

The TV stations all have their affiliated online news sites, which at some stations, has meant a shift in priority for journalists. On top of putting together radio and TV stories, journos at some stations are now expected to take photos for online articles and keep the online editors updated on stories. The shift has also seen the creation of several online-only platforms like WAtoday, So Perth and the Guardian Australia.

The experience of news has changed for consumers too. Whereas once we used to wait until an hourly radio bulletin or nightly TV bulletin to consume our news, it’s now at our fingertips 24/7 online.  We can now consume our news the way we want to, when we want to. Instead of having to wait through an entire bulletin to hear a story we’re interested in, we can click straight to it, and largely ignore those stories that don’t take our fancy.

The Reuters Institute Digital News Report this year surveyed more than 2,000 Australians on how they accessed the news. In terms of weekly reach, online news far outperformed other mediums, reaching 78 per cent of consumers, while TV reached 65 per cent, radio 40 per cent and print 38 per cent. Not surprisingly, young people were more likely to get their news via the net, while many older Australians still turned to traditional sources. The survey also found 51 per cent used their smartphones to access news, 60 per cent used a computer and 27 per cent used a tablet.

While this is all very convenient, some disturbing trends in online news have also started to appear. For example, the study also found that 45 per cent of respondents used Facebook as a source of news, and 18 per cent used social media as their main source of news. A third of respondents regularly shared news via social media. Back when the majority of stories were simply being shared from traditional news websites, this was not much of a concern. But with the emergence of false, deliberately misleading and malicious stories it is.

The rise in these sensational fake stories has had such an impact, that some are even blaming it for Donald Trump’s win in the US election. A series of ridiculous stories passed off as professional news were shared and viewed hundreds of thousands of times online in the lead up to the election. Facebook’s role in this dissemination of misinformation has been acknowledged by founder Mark Zuckerberg, who has vowed to crack down on fake news.

And the concern about the prevalence and influence of these fake stories is not restricted to the US. According to The West Australian newspaper, the WA Labor party secretary has written to the Australian boss of Facebook to voice his concerns over the potential for misleading stories disseminated on the social media platform to have a bearing on the upcoming WA election.

As the editorial in The West has pointed out, Facebook is not held to the same ethical standards as regular news outlets. And while traditional journalists may not always get the facts right, it’s expected that they at least pursue the truth. It would be very rare for a journalist to set out to write a deliberately misleading story, whereas it is the main focus for those creating fake news.

The moral of the story for the public who get the majority of their news from social media is this: don’t believe everything you read. Cross reference, check facts, read other articles on traditional media sites, and then make up your own mind about the validity of a story. If a story you’ve read on Facebook has the potential to influence your vote at the next election, at least make an informed decision, not one based on a deliberate lie. Of course, some will argue that during election campaigns, politicians lie anyway, but that’s another story…

To understand how to make the best use of this information in developing media strategy, as well as media training and media relations advice, please contact Campaign Capital.

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