The mainstream media is in the middle of an existential crisis. Inundated with accusations of lies, false-truths and deceptive content, gone are the days when something read in a newspaper was accepted as fact.
Following a bold yet widely applauded decision by Wikipedia this week, is time being called on fake news?
Yesterday, employees at the Daily Mail were left stunned after the news that Wikipedia would no longer refer to the newspaper as a ‘reliable source’ of information on their site. The reason for the ban centred on the Mail’s reputation for “poor fact checking, sensationalism, and flat-out fabrication”.
Although many approved of the move, some of the Mail’s writers were less impressed. When Dan Hodges took to Twitter to express his view on the move, he probably didn’t expect to be put back in his box by the founder of Wikipedia himself – grab the popcorn, because this Twitter spat is one worth reading in full.
So how do we now define what a newspaper is? Can we still legitimately refer to the Daily Mail, for example, as a “newspaper”, or is it now considered more an entertainment site whose content cannot be relied upon as fact?
With Donald Trump calling “fake news” on any story which casts him in a bad light, and his senior aide, Kellyanne Conway, endorsing the use of “alternative facts”, it is becoming harder and harder to identify the truth when reading the news both here, and across the pond.
Those who followed the US election were reminded just how effectively fake news can influence the masses, on matters that are hugely important. We all remember the ‘It Was The Sun Wot Won It’ headline of 1992 – but there is a difference between a newspaper taking a political stance to influence its readership, and a newspaper printing outright lies.
Nearly two-thirds of adults consume news through social media, and Facebook and Google are now introducing fake-news blocking algorithms to combat the issue, but there needs to be a degree of personal responsibility for the news we choose to both consume and believe.
Today, the mainstream media stands at risk of losing its credibility, and the general public is ever more suspicious. This may not be such a bad thing for society as a whole. After all, a cynical audience is more likely to be a better informed one.
We all remember what happened when the News of the World closed in the wake of the phone hacking scandal, the general consensus being that they had behaved unethically. Does fake news fall under the same banner? And, if so, what next for the Daily Mail and others who publish ‘alternative facts’?