News or mass-market misinformation?

Traditional news media is struggling against a torrent of incomers which appeal to a younger audience. The internet removes the need for hugely expensive printing presses, but it has dumbed down output in staggering ways.

A yellow and black sign with the words Internet Hoax isolated on a white background Warning of Internet Hoax

Many of the ‘writers’ turning out ‘original’ content for these churn sites can barely put a proper sentence together. Worse, they often seem to care little for facts. Any trained journalist knows the job starts and ends with being able to verify what you are writing. That means credible sources to be named or, in those sensitive cases where you have to protect a source’s identity, you have to be ready to go to prison to protect them if you are to retain your credibility. That’s why being sure about a source in the first place is so important.

None of this matters if your sole aim is to make money from Facebook click-throughs and you have zero responsibility for your output.

That’s what’s been happening around the current angry and polarised US election. As Buzzfeed (one of the new breed with proper standards, it should be said) reports, apparent Donald Trump supporting sites generating false and scandalous click-bait content have sprung up at the hands of teens from, of all places, Macedonia! This wouldn’t matter so much perhaps if they weren’t directly targeting US citizens. Trump supporters latch onto these stories which fuel their vitriol and, before they can be stomped out, the scammers have had their pay day from the amount of traffic to their sites.

Of course they don’t limit themselves to politics; any topic that gets people’s attention easily, such as their health, is also targeted.

It’s clever on their part and wherever there is money to be made, someone will always find a way to do it. But what it says about the quality of alleged ‘news’ output online is not anything good.

Maybe when those traditional sources really get their act together and become as effective at reaching their audiences as the newcomers we’ll be able to have some trust again. Until then, be careful what you believe unless you really know the credentials of the site where you’re reading it.

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