SXSW Journalists: No easy fix to ending fake news

AUSTIN - Fake News, the featured buzz term used by politicians and media organizations alike in 2016 and into 2017, was put on center stage at South by Southwest as seasoned journalists went head to head with their abstract nemesis

The question guiding the forum: how to minimize the fake, and often times biased, content without alienating an audience that already holds the media on a short string?

But lest we forget, fake news isn't something that popped out of thin air. It's always been here.

"This is a global problem," said Eric Carvin of the Associated Press. "In many ways, it's been a problem in other parts of the world for a longer time than here due to repressive regimes and... questionable motivations from governments and those who oppose them."

According to Claire Wardle from First Draft, a French publication, and Carvin, fact-checking websites are needed more now than ever along with the collaboration between competing media organizations.

After the 2016 election, Carvin said the Associated Press took matters into their own hands. They personally reached out to Facebook to figure out a way to limit the traffic of fake news. ABC News and Politifact followed suit and are also working with the social media leader.

Parallel to the system put in place by American media organizations, French media companies created CrossCheck; its role is to have French newsrooms unite and fight election misinformation by putting their stamp on debunked stories - literally. It's something that's gaining global attention.

"It's a really fascinating project," Wardle said. "It's grown into a monster. People now want us to roll it out in Hong Kong, Germany and Kenya."

However, sometimes fact-checking isn't enough when you get to the root of why people accept the fake news as fact, according to a majority of the panelists.

Panelist Liza Fazio from Vanderbilt university said to many it's easier to remember information from a story rather than where it came from. Factors like hidden biases and who you see sharing the fake news affects people's opinions too.

While it might be easy to tell people they're wrong, a reason has to be given as well, Fazio added. 

Everything isn't black and white. There isn't a half of the world that only reads fake news while the other half doesn't.

As John Bridges from the Austin-American Statesman said, "If you read something and begin finding yourself say 'Yes, I always knew it', question that story."

Journalists also have a big job in the day and age when news is demanded immediately.

"A lot of newsrooms have made mistakes with trying to get breaking news out in the age of social media," said Wardle.

Journalists have to be careful not to sensationalize, according to Bridges. Sometimes the conspiracy becomes the actual story.

Though fake news seems like a big problem, it's not one easily solved. 

One thing journalists and debunkers can do, Fazio added, is not qualify all people who absorb fake news as dumb or uneducated. Those people are just giving into their biases: something many have to fight against every day.

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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