Journalism’s response to the rise of fake news has been to go down one of two paths (generally).
One path involves lamenting, criticising or lambasting organisations such as Facebook for a) creating the problem of fake news by providing the algorithmic bubbles which allow confirmation bias to be confused with popularity and b) then providing a very clever way to make money from that audience.
The other path involves doubling down on our commitment to facts. “How should journalism respond to fake news? Report the facts!” is a phrase I’ve seen frequently on social media. The rise of ‘fact checking’ services has also been heralded as a way to fight back against fake news.
The latter makes us feel all warm and cuddly as journalists, as it plays to our core beliefs: That facts are sacred, and we’re the people to share the facts. The former plays to a common belief in journalism – that when people aren’t listening to us, it’s not our fault.
Fighting fake news with fact checking is a little like giving someone with a serious illness porridge and telling them it will make them better. It’s highly unlikely it will make them better for good. It might make them feel a little less unwell for a little bit, and it’ll make the person serving the porridge feel good too. But it won’t cure the underlying problem – the serious illness.
Fake news may well be the product of clever minds who spotted how to game the popularity of content = lots of revenue model created by social networks and search engines. But our ability to deliver a solution is a symptom of the fact journalism still has a long way to go to be relevant enough in the lives of readers to combat fake news.