Disinformation posing as news is nothing new in the world. You can look at the “yellow journalism” of the early 20th century, or for that matter the late 18th century when political parties used newspapers as political tools.
Nowadays, we have a pithy term for this long-time phenomenon—” fake news.” But something separates the current incantation of fake news from its earlier forms. Due to the rise of digital technology, false news stories are more pervasive and, even more alarming, harder to identify.
Many major news outlets have taken heat for publishing stories that are misleading, biased, or downright inaccurate. Some recent examples include Buzzfeed’s quickly debunked story that Michael Cohen had incriminating evidence against President Donald Trump. In another example, Breitbart issued a correction regarding an inaccurate story the publication ran about one of its rivals. In spite of the term “fake news” being coined in the United States, this issue is global in scope.
For example, the London-based news outlet—The Daily Mail—found itself in the midst of a firestorm when the paper was caught publishing a blatantly false “bombshell” piece regarding global leaders being “duped” into spending billions of dollars to combat global warming based on manipulated data. After a complaint, the Mail was forced to publish a lengthy note at the beginning of the article to clarify their mistake.
It goes without saying that there are professionals within the journalism community who are honest, take their responsibilities seriously, and report the most factually accurate news that they can. These professionals are working hard to protect this important democratic institution. However, whenever outlets publish blatantly fake news without retraction or contrition, it only helps bad actors in positions of power get away with their misdeeds.