Photo courtesy of Rejected tjTODAY
Remember the time Dr. Glazer was found crying in his car? Or when a SWAT team breached a bathroom to take out a student on his phone?
Obviously, these stories are fake. They’re jokes, satire, hyperbole; in other words, the stock-in-trade for the delinquents over at Rejected tjTODAY. And while fake news has been at our heart from the beginning, this past election cycle has shown us that it can be more potent than quips about senioritis and resume padding. Fake news has consequences. So what exactly is it? Where do we draw the line between humor and deception?
Here at Rejected tjTODAY, we’ve never presented ourselves as a legitimate news source. While our headlines are heavily based on real events and culture at TJ, they’re presented as satire. We exist to entertain. The same can’t be said for many news outlets this year. In an election cycle characterized by sound bytes, Twitter beefs, and miles of dirty laundry on both sides, a darker side to fake news has flourished. Stories disguising themselves as truth that have found a foothold.
Often shared over social media, most fake news stories were written with the specific intent to provide support for a candidate or ideology. They’re written to sway people’s votes not through a deliberation of policy or even basic facts, but through scandal and division. From one claim that Clinton has a secret son, to another that Trump has a learning disability, both sides of the aisle engage in this behavior. And it’s actually pretty scary how quickly things can get out of hand. The New York Times did an interesting case study on one such piece. On November 9, entrepreneur Eric Tucker tweeted to his forty-odd followers a picture of buses in Austin, Texas near an anti-Trump demonstration. He claimed this image was proof that anti-Trump demonstrators were not “organic” — that is, they were paid to inflate the size of the protests. The story soon made its way up the media’s chain of command, gaining traction on conservatives news sites and garnering thousands of upvotes on Reddit. Finally, within 48 hours, the story was posted by Donald Trump, the future Commander-in-Chief on Twitter. The following day, Tucker tweeted a correction: his assumption had been proven false. His claim had no evidence and was never verified, but that had no bearing on its spread. With all that said, it was too late — the correction reached a mere fraction of the audience that the original story had.
In the story of Eric Tucker we see one of the fundamental flaws of media today. We’re a society that thrives on outrage and scandals, with attention spans of goldfish. It’s a human instinct — we’re far more interested in spreading gossip and controversy than we are in positive stories or corrections. Gone are the days when in-depth, investigative journalism was the norm. Nowadays, the media makes money on maximizing clicks — and nothing gets people to click faster than anger.
In today’s internet world, the ability to ignore dissenting opinions has become easier and easier.If a Democrat sees a friend retweet Donald Trump, all it takes is a simple “block” to ignore that content. If a Republican wants to hear the news, they’ll follow Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Liberals will hear about HIllary Clinton’s emails from Vox, conservatives from Fox. Intentionally or unintentionally, our ability to select our news sources creates an echo chamber — a place where we hear only what we want to hear, read only what we want to read. It’s a dangerous process, one that leads to polarization and division. It’s in these echo chambers that fake news thrives. Among liberals, who’s going to question the validity of another Trump scandal? Between conservatives, who’s going to question the idea that Clinton is too sick for office?
So as the face of global media shifts, it’s down to us, the consumers, to remain vigilant. Fake news can be dangerous, and it takes advantage of our fallibility. To be an informed citizen, you’ve got to get your news from a variety of sources. Question everything, even Rejected tjTODAY headlines. There’s no doubt that many of our headlines are written with a purpose in mind, a message to send, an injustice we want brought to light. But never take just our word for it — do some digging, learn about the facts for yourself.
Fake news doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. But it’s when the truth is distorted with malice rather than mirth, when it pretends to be real, and when it’s not questioned, that it becomes an issue. Verify what you hear and keep an open mind.
If you do that, we’ll try to keep you laughing.
Rejected tjTODAY is an online parody news account. You can like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter.