Leading up to what would be the Spanish-American War, two major newspaper outlets battled each other for the public’s attention. Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and William Hearst’s New York Journal both did this by capturing the reader’s attention through alluring headlines and sensational stories. This method of news reporting was eventually called “yellow journalism” which is very similar to what we would call “clickbait” today. While effective at gaining readers’ attention, this method of news reporting was also criticized for being too exploitive as well as misleading. During the 1890’s, tensions between Spain and the US concerning Cuba became the hot story for both news outlets with the number of reader’s growing each day. Both Pulitzer and Hearst’s newspaper businesses heavily exaggerated details of life in Cuba which caused the public’s anti-Spain opinions to grow. The last straw that culminated in the public’s urges to wage war on Spain came in February of 1898 when the USS Maine mysteriously exploded in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. Immediately news outlets like Pulitzer’s and Hearst’s blamed Spain for the unknown explosion without legitimacy by claiming that there were plots to blow up the ship (Kennedy). These writings from the New York World and New York Journal are ultimately what led the public to push for war and intervention against Spain. The Spanish-American War is considered to be the first war that was heavily press-driven (PBS).
Misinformation and Fake News Today
In the last few years as well, we have seen fake news and misinformation influence people’s actions and thoughts. For example, 2016’s Pizzagate incident stemmed directly from a Facebook post claiming that the basement of a pizza restaurant in Washington D.C. was housing a pedophile ring led by high ranking Democrats including Hillary Clinton. Clearly not true, there were, however, people who bought into the story including Edgar Welch who stormed the restaurant armed with a rifle and pistol believing he was freeing children who were being held hostage (Robb).
However, discerning fake news and misinformation from reliable news has become even more important due to the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the world. As people desperately search for any information on the unknown virus, both accurate and inaccurate information have sprouted in attempts to quell people’s uncertainty and anxiety. In February of 2020, the WHO released a statement warning people of an oncoming “infodemic” as the number of coronavirus cases grows. This infodemic can contain accurate, inaccurate, and false information which makes it difficult for people to find reliable and trustworthy information. In such uncertain times, knowing how to distinguish accurate information from inaccurate information is key in staying well-informed and safe during this pandemic.
How Can You Help Prevent an Infodemic?
My solution to cobating the spread of misinformation and fake news is quite simple and not difficult for an average person like you to do. It consists of three main steps: obtaining information from trusted sources, fact-checking any information found on the Internet, and not posting or spreading information that may not be completely accurate or true.
- Obtaining information from trusted sources
It is important that when you are searching for specific information such as “symptoms of the coronavirus” that you use reliable and well-known sources like the New York Times or Washington Post. Even better, getting information directly from government-run organizations like the WHO or the CDC in this case will yield much more accurate and error-less results.
- Fact-checking any information found on the Internet
Any information that you receive from the Internet especially from not well-known sources should be fact-checked and verified. Verifying sources is important to making sure that you are receiving reliable information.
- Not spreading information or rumors that may not be completely accurate or true
The third and final step is to not post or spread information that you are not completely sure is true. With the access of the Internet, any type of misinformation that you spread can be easily seen by many other people as well as shared. It is important that in order to create and maintain a well-informed society that you do not share information that might not be true
In conclusion, misinformation and fake news is not something that can easily be tackled by an individual company, organization, or person; but, if we all did our part in staying well-informed, our society would in turn be much aware and educated on current events and situations happening in the world.
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