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If you’ve lived anywhere but under a rock during the 2016 election, “fake news” isn’t a term you’re unfamiliar with. Fake news is defined as any “deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.”(Kalsnes) It is true that news outlets may unintentionally put out false information, but for this paper, I will only be focusing on fake news with malicious intent. While one may believe that fake news is harmless, it is much more dangerous now than ever. With how easy it is to share articles on social media and through texts, fake news can cause thousands to believe something completely in seconds. The lines between real news and “fake news” are slowly blurring. It is becoming incredibly difficult to distinguish the two from each other. Due to the free press, social media, and herd mentality, fake news is an unstoppable force that causes people to act irrationally based on false information.

As much as it seems fake news is a recent thing, it has been around ever since the right to a free press. A free press is defined as “a body of book publishers, news media, etc., not controlled or restricted by government censorship in political or ideological matters.” (Freedom Of The Press). This means that even though the information may be wrong, manipulative, or flat-out lies, the free press allows people to publish it. Even though there are some cons to free press such as unregulated news, it is absolutely necessary to keep people in line. The press is the watchdog of society so in order to keep people in check, the free press must be left untampered with. Even though you can’t necessarily prosecute someone legally for fake news, you can sue them for defamation under certain circumstances. (LibGuides) If you have suffered damages as a result of fake news, you may be entitled to compensation. However, this process of undergoing a lawsuit takes a lot of time. In most cases, by the time the news has been proven false, most people will already believe it to be true. Even though you can sue for defamation, it takes a lot of time and money and many people simply don’t have the funds for that. Unless the government censors fake news, there is no way for it to be stopped. The idea alone of government censorship would cause outrage among the American people because it is violating their first amendment right to free speech. There have been many instances in history where fake news has created conflict. In medieval Italy, a fake news story circulated stating that the Jewish community killed a two-and-a-half-year-old infant. Even though this didn’t happen and the pope spoke out against the accusations, all Jews in the city were arrested and tortured, 15 being burned at the stake. (Mansky) This goes to show that fake news has been around for ages and the consequences of mob mentality are very real. Fake news has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be in the future as long as people have the right to a free press. This makes fake news a somewhat unstoppable force. While in the past there have been countless examples of fake news, social media is now making it much more dangerous.

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We live in a day and age where social media allows us easy access to abundant amounts of information. While social media is a great resource for knowing what’s going on, it’s getting harder and harder to distinguish what news is real, and what is fake. After the Parkland shooting a video circulated around Twitter of a survivor Emma Gonzalez tearing the constitution in half. (Reilly) This of course sparked massive outrage causing the tweet to be retweeted thousands upon thousands of times. The American people were so offended and infuriated at the idea of the Constitution being ripped, that they never checked to see if the video was even real. The original video was Emma Gonzalez tearing a gun target in half and the constitution was green-screened on top of it. Even though the video seemed incredibly real the agenda that Gonzalez was against Constitution was completely erroneous. Despite the fact that the video was proven to be fabricated, the damage had already been done. Thousands upon thousands of people had already seen it and made up their opinion on Emma Gonzalez. In a day and age where we get so much information so quickly, it is incredibly easy to take someone’s word for something. If thousands of people had retweeted it and believed it, why shouldn’t you? Is everyone expected to fact-check the hundreds of tweets that come onto their feed each day? Social media creates a culture of blindly believing whatever information is thrown in front of you. Social media is about intaking and sharing large quantities of media and information, so there is rarely enough time to fact-check everything you see. Also, most of the time fake news intentionally makes itself look similar to normal, reputable news sources. For example, on Twitter, there is a fake Donald Trump Twitter account under the handle @realdonaldtrunp. His actual account is @realdonaldtrump. These accounts both share the same profile picture and bio. The difference in the last name by using an “n” instead of an “m” is a very slight and subtle difference. This combined with the same profile picture and bio may very well throw off experienced Twitter users. Being able to impersonate someone as controversial and hated as Trump holds a lot of power. The only difference between the actual Donald Trump and the fake one online is simply a subtle letter difference in their username. This deceptive tactic is only something that is possible in this day and age on social media. It is now easier than ever to be or say something that you are not. Before social media, no one had the power to impersonate and persuade people to the degree that it is available now. This combined with the attitude of believing whatever you see is a recipe for disaster.

Mob mentality as in relationship to fake news causes many issues. Herd mentality or mob mentality is defined as “How people can be influenced by their peers to adopt certain behaviors on a largely emotional, rather than rational, basis” (Nauert) Herd mentality was perfectly modeled in Alan Arkin’s “The Lemming Condition” In this children’s book, rodent-like creatures blindly throw themselves off massive cliffs for pretty much no reason at all. They see the lemming in front of them jump so they do the same. (Arkin) This is exactly what fake news does to the public. Whether it is on social media or online, no matter how preposterous the headline may be, the people blindly agree with the others who have believed too. This is exactly like the lemmings because before they jump off, they don’t think rationally about their decision, they just trust that the person in front of them knows what they are doing. This sparks a chain reaction of complete neglect of all rational thought. When something provokes a reaction such as fake news, there is generally little to no rational or critical thinking that goes on when you respond or retweet it. People just blindly believe and never actually into the facts themselves. When things can be shared so quickly whether it’s with retweets or shares, fake news moves at a rapid pace. It only gets worse as more people begin to share the fake news. One might think that since ten thousand people believe and retweeted it, why shouldn’t they? This herd mentality is incredibly dangerous and leads people to believe things they’d never thought were true. The problem isn’t necessarily that fake news exists because it will always be in some form. The true question is whether you believe it or not. Much like the lemmings, this attitude of believing everything you see is what makes fake news so dangerous.

After looking at the unstoppable nature, the effects of social media, and the presence of herd mentality in fake news, we can come to the conclusion that it is a reality in our everyday lives. Due to the first amendment, fake news is something that is nearly impossible to dodge. With that being said, it is important to avoid being another sheep in the herd. Social media is a massive platform for fake news, and it is important to take things you see with a grain of salt or do your own research altogether. Instead of trying to stop fake news altogether, we as a community should focus on being somewhat cautious and apprehensive about how much we believe in certain new sources. Don’t be a sheep and definitely don’t be a lemming. Fake news is here to stay and be careful of what you believe in because, in this day and age, you never know what is true and what is fake.

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