Fake News: Ignorance is Not Bliss

Fast food typically fails to constitute the healthiest food option. While most of us know this, we can find ourselves eating it all too often. Whether because we don’t spend time to better plan our meals or because it’s relatively inexpensive, fast food persists as a thriving part of our society.

Just as too much fast food can threaten our health, some perceive “fake news” as a serious threat to the wellbeing our of nation. Whether to create more web traffic for monetary reasons or to spread misinformation amongst voters, people create these web-based articles with inaccurate information or outright falsehoods. And social media creates a ready avenue for more people to see these articles that otherwise might remain lost in the world wide web. According to a survey by Pew Research Center, conducted in association with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, a majority of U.S. adults – 62% – get news on social media, and 18% do so often.

Considering the problem fake news potentially presents, there is wisdom in determining the best way to address it. For Facebook’s founder, the solution comes down to managing and ultimately limiting the spread of fake news. To this effect, Mark Zuckerburg posted a message back in November that Facebook plans to implement several processes to utilize third parties to verify articles, attach warning flags to questionable articles, and even reduce certain articles from showing up in certain situations. While Mark’s proposal to create systematic controls probably reflects a pragmatic approach from someone running a social media company, I think the real solution to this problem lies with “we the people.”

Sidestepping the philosophical issues created by Zuckerberg’s proposal, a closer look reveals that fake news is a symptom of a larger issue that predates our recent focus on fake news. A closer look also reveals that the problem surpasses just managing or even reducing the existence of fake news.

Fake news presents a problem because it can motivate people to take certain actions that the truth would not compel them to take. However, this only works on individuals unaware of the facts or true situation. Therefore, it appears that the real problem is ignorance. And fake news only constitutes one issue related to ignorance.

Ignorance allows major media outlets, intentionally or unintentionally, to create narratives to motivate voters that may not accurately represent the situation by focusing on certain aspects of the truth. Ignorance allows sounds bits to send a politician’s political stock rising into the stratosphere or crashing into oblivion, without regard to the politician’s substantive policy positions or political experience. Ignorance allows falsehood in all its varied forms to take on the appearance of truth that motivates people to action.

For the most part, ignorance does not exist because of an inability of Americans to find information. Outside of the political arena, we consistently demonstrate an ability to find information and track developing situations with a great degree of precision. We religiously patron the TV on Sunday afternoons to watch every play by our favorite football team, diligently watch the career development of our favorite players, and tune into ESPN regularly to check on the condition of the players and our team leading up to the big games.

If anything, it appears that we choose political ignorance by failing to dedicate sufficient time to staying abreast of the pressing political matters of our day. If we chose to remain informed on political matters with the same dedication as we do Sunday sports, we would see a seismic shift in our country. Not only would fake news articles prove ineffective, we might begin seeing our elected officials take more measured responses, confident in the knowledge that his or her voters would read beyond the soundbite headline. News outlets might find it less appealing to tailor their articles to certain political demographics as people regularly check and contrast multiple news sources to identify the objective truth.

As more often than not, the issue and solution lies with us. The more we reject the path of least resistance, the less likely falsehood and misinformation will drive our nation. Only when we stop adopting and advocating positions based on fast food quality research, we will enjoy a thoroughly gourmet political discussion and results in our nation.

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