Be honest. Did you start reading this editorial because it had an interesting headline?
In a world drowning in fake news, it’s difficult to discern if there’s any truth in in the media nowadays.
In 2012, Kim Jong Un was declared the sexiest living leader of any country, which was reported by the North Korean state media. The only problem was the Onion was the magazine bestowing the honor.
Anyone who has spent a few minutes on Facebook or Twitter has been fooled by such a story or seen someone who has. This issue only seems to be getting worse, per Facebook, which has decided to do something about it.
At the Editorial Board we believe this is a problem; however, everyone should be wary of such efforts to differentiate real and fake news.
Certainly it is an issue when people are incapable of distinguishing between satire and reality. The First Amendment is designed to maintain an informed public, but this is only possible if the public is capable of being informed.
That said, Facebook is grabbing quite a bit of power by dictating what real news is and what fake news is for us mere mortals.
Rather than a top-down approach like Facebook is proposing, we believe a bottom-up plan is the most appropriate to rectify the fake news situation. Citizens need to be able to digest their news and maximize what they get out of it.
For this to happen, we need to refocus on civic and media education. We believe this can be most effectively tackled in high school, where students are best equipped to understand political and cultural news. Because most schools already require these sorts of classes, it would not be hard to implement a curriculum that focuses on understanding news media and how it works and how to detect satire and outright lies.
This is preferable to having sites such as Facebook and Twitter curate what news and opinions are posted on their sites. This is open to abuse. We have already seen Facebook censor conservative news stories and manipulate what is trending.
A band-aid solution isn’t going to work. If citizens cannot decide what they should and should not trust, how long will it be until they give up on news altogether?
Rather than having our self-appointed intellectuals decide what is fit for consumption, each must become his or her own curator.
Mark Zuckerberg’s efforts are well-intentioned but slightly misguided. This country was created with the idea of an informed citizenry working with an independent press to make governing decisions.
By refocusing on foundations in civics and media, we can begin to create a world in which your uncle does not share that story from Alex Jones about the coming Federal Emergency Management Agency martial law on the West Coast. North Korean state media may continue to believe Kim Jong Un really is the handsomest leader the world has ever seen, but we can create a society where Americans don’t believe this.