Gracelyn Sweeny, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s Fall 2016 Mass Communication Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the following essay in response to the prompt: What is fake news? How have you experienced it? Should it be stopped? Can it be stopped?
The term “fake news” is subjective. From my perspective, fake news is anything that I see on a news satire page, or news about any of the Kardashians or Donald Trump’s latest Twitter rampage. Fake news is anything that I deem un-newsworthy and, generally, useless information. Some fake news is actual lies, but I’ll go a step further and say that most celebrity news is also fake news.
The first classification of fake news it that of the “actual lies” category. These are the types of articles that are posted by The Onion and Clickhole, a sample headline from Clickhole is “Latest Attack: Russian Hackers Have Gained Full Control of the Lincoln Memorials Legs”. While entertaining, this headline is of course untrue. The other type of fake news in this category is right or left on the political spectrum, and cater to those corresponding audiences. These headlines are more like “Hillary Clinton Runs a Child Trafficking Operation Out of Local Pizza Shop”. Again, this is untrue. But there is a certain audience for news like this in America, and the source knows it.
The second kind of fake news, to me, is that of the celebrity. The American consumer likes drama, but only so much that we don’t feel a conviction to take action. Seeing the latest drama between a celebrity couple is an exciting read, but we can’t really do anything about it. Celebrities are, in a way, above us mortal humans, and they’re virtually unreachable. However, we don’t like to read about suffering refugees or unrest in our own country because there are tangible things that we can do to take action. One could be an advocate for human rights or donate money to a cause, but doing these things requires effort and resources. We’d rather turn our attention to Kim Kardashian’s latest selfie and the news coverage of that. Her selfie is for the most part, non-threatening, and it doesn’t move us to any action beyond feeling like we should drink a kale smoothie and get a facial.
I believe that the only kind of fake news that should be stopped is that which pertains to national and political issues. With the most recent political election we all experienced fake news in some way or another, making it increasingly difficult to find the truth in an important moment for our country. Facebook, and other social medias, are creating algorithms to filter out fake news from their sites. However, it is mostly impossible to stop this kind of fake news from being published, as the right to publish fake news is protected under the constitution.
Gracelyn is a senior at Pepperdine University majoring in Public Relations.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.