We have a serious epidemic on our hands, and the only way to stop it will take a lot of hard work and effort. Reading more than eight words has seemingly become a skill that many Americans cannot undertake. Whether it be in this newspaper or on social media, people have forgotten that behind a headline and a photo, there is more information to obtain before sharing, commenting or liking an article, let alone checking to make sure the information comes from a credible source.
To start, I would like to address the emails we have been getting from multiple readers who do not want to have a letter to the editor published, regarding the headline of the front page of our issue on Nov. 10. If you missed it, the headline was “Trump triumphant, campus devastated.” For the people who expressed their disappointment with this headline, I have to wonder if they read the story, because if they had, they may see why this headline took to print. The story, written by Staff Writer Colleen Irvine and Design Editor Alycia Wilson, was a reaction piece to how students were feeling less than 24-hours after the state and presidential election results. When reading the piece, one will see that The New Hampshire found and represented both opinions on campus. That being said, we found that the majority of students were unhappy with the results.
Many students declined to comment, some in tears, too upset to talk, which was mentioned in the article. The majority of editors on staff noticed the gloomy feeling within their classes that day, combined with the vast majority of students and professors expressing their dismay and discomfort with the future president. With the article clearly being a reaction piece, we found it appropriate to refer to this journalistic finding in our headline. Now, I understand how if one didn’t actually read the story it may seem “biased;” however, a headline reflecting the content of a story is far from abnormal.
The facts and numbers stated in the article were presented in an unbiased way and we fairly represented both reactions throughout. That considered, for us to ignore the fact that the majority of students were devastated would not bring to light the emotions seen on campus, which was what the purpose of our article was to do. Giving basic election coverage would have been easy, something anyone could read from a major news source or see on TV without even trying. In fact, we were positive that our paper wouldn’t be breaking the election results to anyone. What we did know was that no other newspaper in the world would bring to light the emotions and reactions of specifically UNH students, and as the independent student newspaper of the University of New Hampshire, that was our goal.
I am not surprised by these letters of discomfort that questioned our integrity. We editors were prepared to receive backlash. We knew that people would see the headline and react without reading because this is a current trend within our society, particularly on social media. So, if you have made it this far, thanks for reading, you are most likely not the problem, so continuing on to discuss the second part of my message may be pointless, but I’ll go for it anyway.
There was a recent editorial in The New York Times on the issue of fake news stories being shared on Facebook by the masses. The Times stated that according to a BuzzFeed News analysis, during the last three months of the presidential campaign, the top 20 fake news stories on Facebook generated more shares, likes and comments than the top 20 stories from real news websites. This is terrifying.
People are not only sharing these stories solely based off the photos and headlines, but are sharing without reading further, or checking to see if the article is coming from a credible source. Far too many believe what they see scrolling down a newsfeed and thus don’t think twice about spreading the lies. This issue of spreading fake news has been one far beyond the election. According to the Times, in countries like Myanmar, deceptive content on the internet has reportedly “contributed to ethnic violence.” In the case of this previous election, some may have believed that the Pope endorsed Donald Trump, another untrue rumor blown out of proportion. And these stories aren’t only being shared by the common Facebook user; politicians are falling victim to this, what is essentially, propaganda.
According to the Times, Facebook is working on not allowing these false messages to spread by no longer placing Facebook powered ads on fake news websites. Google also said it would stop letting these fake news sites use its ad placement programs. Although this will help, it is truly up to Facebook’s 1.8 billion users, as well as Twitter’s 317 million monthly active users to stop the madness by reading and checking for credibility before liking, sharing or commenting on a post.
What can you do to stop the madness? Read, question, fact check, read some more and repeat.