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Running Head: The Information Apocalypse

The Information Apocalypse

Vincent Kageyama

ASU ENG 102

Professor Kardell
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During the 2016 presidential election, the term “fake news” was used frequently, it was

even referenced by presidential candidate Donald Trump (Habgood-Coote, J, 2018). According

to authors Jang and Kim, “Recent Pew research suggests that 62% of US citizens obtains news

from social media” (Jang, & Kim, 2018). The ever-growing popularity of social media warrants

both celebration and caution, it gives the ability for anyone to create a profile and voice their

opinions and ideas, and this new open public forum gives way to new ideas and free expression

for all. However, this unfiltered constant stream of opinions from everyone demands caution as it

allows for the spread of information that has not been checked or verified. In one article by

author Carlson, he references a fake story about Hilary Clinton that was published during the

2016 election that suggested that she was untrustworthy and was playing dirty, this video was

viewed 567,000 times (Carlson, 2018). This was just one example of fake news, where a

shocking and flashy headline drew people’s attention to a fabricated story or faulty information.

“With so many potential voters reading and sharing misinformation, these stories may well have

had an outsized impact on the election outcome. In an environment filled with inaccurate

information, the importance of critical thinking skills is more apparent than ever” (Batchelor,

2017). Faulty information that is fed to a large audience can impact their ability to analyze and

cause distrust in media, which is a huge concern in our country as a democracy requires citizens

to be informed, however with distrust and misconceptions in general this becomes far more

difficult. “Fake news” is an issue that stems from social media and influences people’s opinions,

affects people’s trust in media, and the public’s inability to distinguish credible and accurate

sources.

The definition of fake news is any idea or form of information that has no evidence or

credibility and intentionally undermines the truth. There are many deferring definitions of fake
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news, but the most practical one will ideally be a medium in between too broad and too limited.

According to author Joshua Habgood, the term “fake news” has no place in our language as a

result of it having no stable public meaning and that it is actually a form of political propaganda

meant to promote an ideology (Habgood, 2018). This seems to be just blatantly inaccurate as the

term itself implies that it is a form of information that is incorrect, while the minutia of it can be

debated, there is a general notion of what the term is. While there are different takes on the

qualifications of fake news, stemming from the intentions and nature of fake news. “Fake news”

is any mode of information that has been published for the purpose of confusing, spreading

unverified, false information, and spread rapidly (Gelfert, 2018). This argument seems to be the

most common ground of all the definitions of fake news as it seems to be specific enough to

point out the intention of fake news as being to spread and create confusion by intention,

however it does not limit the definition to purely political means or social media posts. This is

the definition that will be used going forward in this paper.

The principle reason for the increase in the appearance and relevancy of fake news in

academia and the news is due to social media. The meteoric rise of social media can be seen

everywhere with Facebook reaching over 2 billion users, YouTube having over 1 billion users,

and hundreds of millions of users on Twitter, Instagram, and WhatsApp (Trader, 2014). Social

media allows for anyone to make an account on a platform where they can post anonymously or

as themselves and it allows for unverified information and non-professional opinions to arise. It

has never been easier to access these opinions and this information as a lot of the social media

apps and sites are free and do not require that users show their identity or verify any information

they provide. The reason this has aided in the spreading and growth of “fake news” is that social

media allows everyone, regardless of their identity or credentials, to post information. It also has
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never been easier or more accessible for other people to read and obtain this newly propagated

information (Batchelor, 2017). Some may argue that there has always been misinformation and

that changes in the standards of journalistic integrity are the source of this rise in “fake news.”

One author, Brian Morton explains a biological taxidermical report that had no basis of evidence

and was inconsistent with his own research and when he was forced to contact the publishing

company (Morton, 2018). However there has always been sources where information is not

reviewed thoroughly enough and it depends on the standards of each publishing company,

however the issue with social media is that anyone can use it for their own purposes with no

rules or guidelines to follow. Political parties have started using this to their own advantage in

order to gain media coverage and control narrative headlines, showing that anyone can use social

media for whatever purpose due to the few restrictions that they have in place (Pennycook, &

Rand, 2018). Another argument is that social media actually helps people and can be used for

educational purposes for Universities and that it is a way that people can relay information to

each other and to the public (Curran, 2012). However, what this argument fails to address is that

there is almost never any disclaimer on information on social media that relays the fact that the

information provided may not have been verified or that it is just an opinion. Social media is a

huge proponent in the propagation of “fake news” and the increasingly problematic nature of it.

Fake news has a large effect on people’s ability to recalibrate their mindset. When people

obtain information they instantly make associations and connections and they begin to develop

opinions about the topic and other topics that may have affiliations with the information.

Authors De Keersmaecker and Roets argue that while it is very easy to implant false information

in a reader’s head, it may be even harder to remove (De Keersmaecker, & Roets. 2017). These

authors argue that initial impressions structure and form our opinions and these formed ideas
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make it harder for us to change our mind and reform informational connections that we make. De

Keersmaecker and Roets cite a study done by Ross, Lepard, and Hubbard that suggested that

initial impressions are very difficult to dispel and they create confusion and hard to reverse

attitude change within an individual (De Keersmaecker, & Roets. 2017). A different suggested

reason for concern about fake news is how it affects our memories and social network. Memory

is not very trustworthy as a means of storing information and on social media when unchecked

memories are shared it can cause a butterfly effect and create confusion when individual and

shared memories cross (Spinney, 2017). Author Spinney cites an online community that is

convinced that Nelson Mandela had died in prison in the 1980s, even though he had a much

longer life and ended up living until 2013 and even obtained the South African presidency

(Spinney, 2017). The reasoning here is that when social networks and memories overlap that is

when an attitude and mindset is established and this is difficult to overturn and correct. While

this may contribute to the problem of fake news, the larger issue is still the initial reaction and

established mindset from learning news because when learning something for the first time there

is absolutely no background for reference and this new piece of information becomes a person’s

only source of reference. This creates a much more difficult problem as it is much harder to

change the foundation of someone’s mindset rather than correcting parts of a person’s idea that

may have been affected by a collectively incorrect memory (De Keersmaecker, & Roets. 2017).

Fake news plants a seed of misinformation and creates problems with recalibrating their mindset

because it implants a bad foundation to make judgements and connections to a topic.

Fake news can affect people’s abilities to find credible sources of media. The rise of fake

news brings with it increased difficulty to find information that is credible and increased

difficulties in filtering through useless and deceitful information. During the 2016 Presidential
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election, there was a large amount of fake news stories and with the media market expanding

there has been an extreme increase in the amount of news outlets and a large increase in the

amount of partisan related content (Guo, & Vargo, 2018). One issue with this is that according to

one study individuals are more at risk to believe fake news stories that align with their

preexisting political views and ideology (Pennycook, & Rand, 2018). This presents an issue to

the general public as if there are increased amounts of partisan related media and people tend to

believe anything that already aligns with their beliefs, these individuals will just hear repeated

untrue information and will not be able to find other sources that are more credible. With the

overload of information that citizens face in today’s age there are large issues with finding

information that is pertinent to each individual. Some may say that for example a teenager who is

not as interested in news can just use their parents or friends to get the news they need and they

find this informational relay as a sufficient method of gathering information (Marchi, 2012). The

issue with this is that when the teenagers ask their parents for pertinent information they do not

develop research skills that are needed in order to find credible information. Another issue that

arises when asking someone who is more interested or better informed about the news is that

75% of adults who had read an article that contained misinformation believed that the news was

true (Guo, & Vargo, 2018). This points to impact that fake news can have on the public and its

ability to find credible information and sources as well as navigate the overwhelming amount of

media that they intake in their daily lives.

The most important thing to understand about social media is the impact that it has on

traditional media and the democratic process. Fake news is undermining the United States’

democratic process. With individuals being at risk of believing fake news stories that go along

with their political ideology this creates a dangerous problem in the country’s democracy
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(Pennycook, & Rand, 2018). These individuals will be entrapped in their own political ideology

and anything that goes along with their ideas keeping them uninformed, because in an ideal

democracy each citizen should be well informed and have the information that they need in order

to make voting decision and properly use their voice. If fake news continues to proliferate

democracy is at risk as there will be far fewer well informed and equipped voters. A study shows

that an increasing amount of people believe that the mainstream media is becoming increasingly

less trustworthy (Allcot & Gentzkow, 2017). The same researchers also did a study on the 2016

presidential election, the year when the term fake news really hit the mainstream media.

According to these studies there were 38 million shares of fake news during just one month of

the 2016 election, showing that a user, or a bot programmed to, was sharing false information

that was sent then to other people (Allcot & Gentzkow, 2017). This statistic seems especially

startling considering that in order to share the fake information these people had to read it and

then consciously make the decision that others needed to see this information. Another area

where fake news is harmful is in traditional media because with all of this fake news there is a

growing distrust in the media (Allcot & Gentzkow, 2017). This is again problematic because it

shows that people are having difficulties getting credible sources on information and fake news

is having a ripple effect and causing confusion. There are some that may argue that fake news,

such as skits that deal in political satire, are not that problematic and serve to inform (Balmas,

2014). This author believes that political satire shows, which are counted by many as fake news,

serve to inform and are for entertainment purposes and therefore are not all that harmful to

democracy and information itself. The argument here is that these opinions and perspectives are

presented as entertainment and opinion and therefore do not have a negative impact on the

viewers and their mindsets. However, this is a dangerous assumption, as any information that is
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viewed will create an impression that topic itself and change the way that individual thinks about

that topic entirely and will affect their decision making when voting (De Keersmaecker, & Roets.

2017). While there is no proven correlation or direct evidence that fake news had any substantial

effect on the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, there was a significant amount more fake

pro-Trump articles than fake pro-Clinton articles (Allcot & Gentzkow, 2017). The issue with

fake news is that this could have affected individuals’ mindsets and pointed them in a specific

direction when it came to partisan voting. Fake news brings huge concerns to traditional media

and the democratic process with social media being so accessible and so easy to post and publish

on.

With fake news being such a prevalent issue in our society it is important to come up

with ways to combat media illiteracy and the confusion that misinformation can cause. One easy

solution is to increase awareness of fake news as third-person perception contributes to the

problem of this confusion. Third-person perception was a term that researchers coined when

surveying people about fake news, it is the idea that fake news is more likely to affect others than

themselves which can lead to ignorance and increased susceptibility to fake news (Guo & Vargo,

2018). With 88% of Americans reporting that they believe fake news affects the basic

information and details of current events, there needs to be a larger way to combat this confusion

(Guo & Vargo, 2018). The two main proposed methods of combat for fake news are media

literacy education and media regulation. Media literacy education entails training students and

people how to navigate the internet and news sources and distinguish credible accurate

information from fake news and misinformation and media regulation involves private social

media companies and news stations policing their content more (Guo & Vargo, 2018). Media

literacy education is proposed to start in school where students can learn to understand the
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importance of evidence, question its source, and use critical thinking abilities to understand,

however one important thing to remember with this method is making sure that they are

skeptical, not cynical (Pattison, 2018). Skepticism is an essential part of democracy and media

literacy education, it is a way of making sure that the reader is aware that the information and

opinions presented to them cannot be taken as purely fact and that there must be some further

questioning and inquisition before accepting the information as factual (Batchelor, 2017). The

other main method of proposed fake news combat is media regulation, where the government,

private businesses, and social media companies would actually police their own information and

make sure that none of it was purposefully untrue or slanderous in order to promote a political

mean (Guo & Vargo, 2018). However, some may argue that there is no way to correct that there

is a solution to this informational overload and that it comes down to cognitive ability. One

researcher had found that people with low cognitive ability had a much more difficult time in

adjusting their opinions and viewpoints on certain issues and people than those with higher

cognitive abilities (De Keersmaecker, & Roets. 2017). While it may be more difficult for those

with lower cognitive abilities to distinguish between false information and verified information,

with education there can still be improvements. One article calls for librarians to come to the

rescue, with their expertise in knowledge and information they can help individuals access

trustworthy informational sources and teach proper and effective research skills and promote

critical thinking (Batchelor, 2017). Librarians champion non-partisan websites, fact-checking

websites, and documentation are all ways to make sure that your information is credible nad has

some basis. Another way that they argue that researching skills can be improve is the C.R.A.A.P

test, which tests: currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, and purpose (Batchelor, 2017).

Improvements in media literacy education is the best way to combat fake news because people
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need to be held accountable for figuring out their own information and opinion and then they will

be able to distinguish opinion and entertainment from fact and come to their own conclusions.

Fake news is a significant problem that arises out of social media, shapes mindsets, harms

media-public relations, and creates issues with finding credible sources. Social media allows for

the dispersion and propagation of misinformation and fake news unlike any other broadcasting

method before it. It usually is free to make an account, anyone has the liberty to post anything,

and there is little to no regulation on the type of information posted on it or the credibility of the

source. Fake news can sculpt opinions with extreme ease, as the minute that someone views any

information that will shape the way that they think, react, and act towards that topic. This

becomes a big issue as it is difficult to dispel these previous notions even when people are

presented with the correct information afterwards. Fake news is harmful towards the general

public and the media’s relationship and causes distrust, as with the informational overload and

the rise of fake news, the public does not know what information is trustworthy enough to take as

fact. Fake news also creates issues in finding credible sources as people do not know what

sources to trust and due to the nature of fake news a lot of it is partisan related and with people

being more likely to trust and read information that already aligns with their beliefs it becomes

even more difficult for people to find credible sources of information. However, even with all of

these issues that fake news causes, there is still hope for a solution, librarians can help with

media literacy and train students how to better navigate this new digital media world we live in,

so that when they are old enough to vote they may make well-informed decisions. In conclusion,

while fake news may seem like the information apocalypse there still is hope within the

overwhelming amount of media and data.


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Balmas, M. (2014). When Fake News Becomes Real: Combined Exposure to Multiple News
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Batchelor, O. (2017). Getting out the truth: The role of libraries in the fight against fake
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