As locals near Washington, D.C.’s Comet Ping Pong restaurant know too well, fake news headlines can have real-world implications.
Edgar Welch allegedly fired three shots at the local hotspot after driving 350 miles from North Carolina in order to investigate a fake news story that the pizzeria was home to a child slavery ring. That story was not true.
“The intel on this wasn’t 100 percent,” Welch told The New York Times after his arrest. “I just wanted to do some good and went about it the wrong way.”
But the incident has prompted questions and criticism of the “fake news” phenomenon. As journalists and social media networks grapple with how to respond, public figures from Hillary Clinton to the pope have warned of its potential repercussions.
George Washington University senior fellow Kalev Leetaru recently penned a Forbes article called “Why Stopping Fake News Is So Hard.”
“Much of this reporting is not necessarily an attempt at deception, but rather interpretation of available facts in a way that differs from the mainstream,” he writes, teasing out different reasons it can be so difficult to label fake news. “Perhaps the best approach might be to recognize that instead of ‘fake’ and ‘true’ news, we have a hundred shades of gray in between.”
A study from Stanford University released recently showed that more than 80 percent of middle school students couldn’t tell the difference between a news story and sponsored content on a popular website. And only one in four high school students could identify a fake Twitter account as lacking a blue checkmark, a signal to users that an account is legitimate.
“In every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation,” the researchers wrote.