We will never fully rid ourselves of the tabloid scourge, but with a healthy dose of discernment, we can make it through the muck.
Tabloids have been around since the early 1900’s, and they became far more prevalent in the 1970’s when many of them switched to a weekly format and took up residence at the ends of supermarket cashier lines—where you’ll still find them. Characterized by their embrace of the low-brow and their penchant for gossip and unbounded sensationalist headlines, these magazines laid the groundwork for the cadre of fake news sites that have become so pervasive over the last few years and very well may have impacted this year’s election.
While the supermarket tabloid and the fake news site are perhaps cousins, they operate in entirely different spheres. Many readers or casual headline observers of the print publications (Globe, National Enquirer, Star, Weekly World News, etc.) take the content therein with, at minimum a few grains of salt—due to the infamously silly nature of the magazines in question. Most of their online counterparts, however, are largely unknown and are deceptively constructed to appear legitimate. Thus, many fake online articles are not viewed through the same cynical lens and are subsequently believed and shared without hesitation. This is a problem. And the solution lies more on the shoulders of the consumers than it does the social media CEOs.
Zuckerberg, Dorsey and co. should work to stop the spread of misinformation, to clear up the waters as it were—but the reality is they’ll never get there, not completely. And if they push too hard, they run the risk of damaging the entire independent news industry, limiting free speech, and creating a monolithic, big-money media landscape that could be more plutocratic and monopolistic than ever before.
It’s up to us.
Famed philosopher Eric Hoffer once said, “Propaganda does not deceive people; it merely helps them to deceive themselves.” Propaganda strengthens the echo chamber, and it seems as though click bait has decapitated critical thinking. This is the larger issue here. There will never be a time, as long as this swirling digisphere exists, that you, media consumer, will be free from fallacies and outright lies. Never. While it’s a good thing that Facebook and Twitter seem to finally be taking the issue or fake news seriously, there is no conceivable way either network will be able to stop the spread of misinformation and propaganda entirely. False news formulated to fit a predefined narrative has existed for centuries, and the only surefire way to fight against it is to be proactive and aggressively skeptical.
Clicks are currency, and we should all be wiser with how we spend them. If you see a link on Facebook that you’re desperate to dive into, but you don’t recognize the site or group posting it, Google it first. The bottom line is, if we work to be more discerning, if we think before we click, these sites won’t make money anymore. The power is in our hands. When the well dries, the pen follows (yes, I know they’re not literally using pens.)
The amount of fake news that hits your Facebook timeline or your Twitter feed will decrease dramatically if you do some light research before clicking on an unknown link. Everything that you see on the internet, every ad, every suggested search result is built upon prior behavior. So, fake news begets more fake news if you interact with it. The more you click, the more you see, and the further you fall down the rabbit hole.
As active and participating consumers of media we have a duty to be skeptical and inquisitive not rash and sensationalistic. Don’t hit that share button unless you’re confident in the validity of what you are sharing. On social media platforms, we have the power to reach a large number of people with a flick of our finger, and this responsibility should not be taken lightly.
Do your homework, check your sources and err on the side of dubiety at all times.