The proliferation of disbelief in the news media in the United States has caused our democracy to erode right before our eyes.
We have all heard the term “fake news” before. We know that certain figures in our society would like us to believe that we cannot trust the news sources that we have had for so many decades. Their view is tainted. They are no longer impartial. The 24-hour news cycle has caused massive sensationalism of stories that would not have received nearly as much attention 30 years ago. Normally, it would be simple and easy to brush off these claims. However, once this seed has been sewn into the mind of the public, it is difficult to undo. Now, more than ever, people question what they read online or see on their TVs. Encouraging the public not to trust major sources of news is a very important part to encourage the erosion of our democracy.
“Fake news,” a term coined by Former President Donald Trump during his campaign for the 2016 Presidential election, was originally meant to refer to news media that wasn’t true. It did not accurately portray whatever it was reporting on and, therefore, needed to be identified. However, the difference between what Trump would refer to as “fake news” and what was actually “fake news” is extremely important to know. Trump used the term to describe stories or reports that were not favorable to him, it did not matter whether they were true or not. Now, the term is used more to help people identify whether something they may read online is true or not. Specifically, it helps fight against the viral spread of misinformation in anything from a Facebook ad to an Instagram infographic. People and social media platforms, now more than ever, are fact-checking the information they consume.
The introduction of Donald Trump as a figure in our public political discourse has caused a massive increase in the belief of propaganda being spread and an inability to trust journalists and the news itself. His entire 2016 presidential campaign hinged on his ability to tap into political dissatisfaction by emphasizing the people vs the political elite. This is not an isolated incident. There are up and coming leaders all over the world whose popularity and success hinge on their ability to convince their base that they are the saviors of their country and they can’t trust those that are in charge or what they are being shown or told. With this decrease in the ability to trust the media, comes a decrease in trust in our government, or legislative systems, and our way of life as we know it. If people can’t trust something that brought us groundbreaking reports of Watergate and the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, then how can they trust anyone in power at all. Trump has served as a leader for this anti-government crusade and convincing people to believe that most news is “fake news” is simply a part of it.
The proliferation of this “fake news” narrative is so damaging because being able to trust the news is something that is a vital part of a healthy democracy. For democracy to be successful, it needs to exist in an environment that not only allows but also encourages a free press and media. The media is not state-sponsored or state-run. It is something that exists independently of all government intervention and that is what makes it so great. Democracy has even been shown to be less likely to survive in a poor informational environment. When there is lower public confidence in democracy, that allows for there to be increased support for emerging anti-democratic groups. The news media plays such a massive role in the lives of every single American, that when you are told by someone who is running for president (and who eventually becomes one) that you can not trust what you have for your entire life, you begin to question things.
This week alone a roundup of some of the most popular, but untrue news stories were done by the Seattle Times. Even though these stories were completely false, they were still shared all over social media. One of these claims even argued that the national cancer rate has increased 20 times since the release of the COVID-19 vaccines. In reality, there is no evidence that any U.S. medical professionals have reported a significant increase in cancer rates. Also, even though Donald Trump left office a considerable time ago, he continues to make headlines for arguing that fake stories are being spread about him. This time it was in regards to recent reports that Trump flushed White House records down the toilet during his tenure in office.
The proliferation of this “fake news” narrative is causing democracy to erode within the United States as we know it. In a study done by Deloitte, they found that about 80% of Americans who say that they regularly follow the news and current events believe that fake news is a big problem today. This is not surprising as a very important part of fake news is that it looks like it was produced from a reliable source. Whether that means an infographic is well-produced, the website you are redirected to contains other authors or articles that don’t look outrageous or unbelievable, etc. This has allowed misinformation to spread and become even harder to identify as it becomes more and more deceptive.
The belief in “fake news” as taking over our society is a slippery slope that sadly many people have become victims to. To keep our country in a healthy state of democracy, we must address this problem head-on. People must be encouraged now more than ever to fact-check their news sources and whatever media they consume so that they do not fall victim as well.