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The Rise of Hoax News 181

Posted by samzenpus
from the but-I-read-it-on-the-internet dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Reporter Luke O'Neil writes that 2013 was journalism's year of bungles: the New Jersey waitress who received a homophobic comment on the receipt from a party she had served; Samsung paying Apple $1 billion in nickels; former NSA chief Michael Hayden's assassination; #CutForBieber; Nelson Mandela's death pic; that eagle snatching a child off the ground on YouTube; Jimmy Kimmel's 'twerk fail' video; and Sarah Palin taking a job with Al-Jazeera America (an obviously satirical story that even suckered in The Washington Post). All these stories had one thing in common: They seemed too tidily packaged, too neat, 'too good to check,' as they used to say, to actually be true. 'Any number of reporters or editors at any of the hundreds of sites that posted these Platonic ideals of shareability could've told you that they smelled, but in the ongoing decimation of the publishing industry, fact-checking has been outsourced to the readers,' writes O'Neil. 'This is not a glitch in the system. It is the system. Readers are gullible, the media is feckless, garbage is circulated around, and everyone goes to bed happy and fed.' O'Neil says that the stories he's written this year that took the least amount of time and effort usually did the most traffic while his more in-depth, reported pieces didn't stand a chance against riffs on things predestined to go viral. That's the secret that Upworthy, BuzzFeed, MailOnline, Viral Nova, and their dozens of knockoffs have figured out: You don't need to write anymore—just write a good headline and point. 'As Big Viral gets bigger, traditional media organizations are scrambling to keep pace,' concludes O'Neil. 'We the media have betrayed your trust, and the general public has taken our self-sanctioned lowering of standards as tacit permission to lower their own.'"
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The Rise of Hoax News

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  • by Coditor (2849497) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:05AM (#45817951)
    and the cost of publishing fake news is also zero. In the early days of the web people thought that it would allow the truth to be easily discovered and that lies couldn't live long. The problem today is that there is no much information available that determining truth is extremely difficult - the noise is so high that a real signal is often lost. I wonder if in the future the amount of information is large enough that a truth analyzer could be built to assist in calculating a truth likeliness value for any given article.
  • by rsmith-mac (639075) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:09AM (#45817981)

    Correction for TFS: Readers are cheap, the media is understaffed.

    All of this just goes to show that you get the news that you pay for. If you're not paying for your news, not only are you not the real customer, but you're not offering any kind of signal to the writer and publisher that rewards them for quality.

    Instead you're probably drawing your news from the 24 hour news cycle, which is the epitome of low quality TFA discusses. The 24 hour cycle offers no time for quality, and being entirely advertising based means that it trends towards sensationalism in order to keep viewers watching (and the ad dollars flowing in). Blogs for that matter aren't any better for largely the same reason, as they have the same instant-publishing goals and are equally prone to sensationalism.

    Real news takes time and money. Time to do research, and money to pay for staff and travel to go do that research. If the public won't pay for that, then the public won't get real news. It's as simple as that.

    Which is why it's all the more important to support newspapers, which are by and large the last bastion of quality reporting and research. They aren't perfect, but they're all that's left. If you care about the news then the single best thing you can do to help quality journalism thrive is to go buy your local paper (yes, buy; not read for free on their website). Only by giving the journalists in your community a paycheck, some time, and a bit of trust, will you get quality journalism. Otherwise if you aren't paying for your news, you're getting the news that you pay for.

  • by Chris Mattern (191822) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:12AM (#45818009)

    Demanding authority and accountability means we need some standard, reliable source of truth to measure them against. Where do we get it from?

  • by MachineShedFred (621896) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:17AM (#45818043) Journal

    It's not. It's the evolution of journalism in the information age, unfortunately. Fox News just seems to embrace it more than most.

    30 years ago, people bought newspapers to get their news and opinion in a portable convenient format. Now, people get push notifications of things happening half way around the world, minutes after they happen. You can't open a web browser without getting "opinion."

    In the old days, reporters would fact check everything because their editors would bury them in some county bureau if they got taken on a story, especially if getting taken meant other newspapers could report on them getting took. Printing a correction would be ducked at any opportunity. Now, they just take the story off the web site and it vanishes from public consciousness, and they just print the newspaper from what remains on the web after a few hours of vetting by the readership for what is real.

    If you fact check, you can't beat your competition to the story. And the news business is all about being first and exclusive to report.

  • by rmdingler (1955220) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:22AM (#45818055)
    Perhaps our tidy little lives are less likely to experience upset if we only read or listen to what we already agree with.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:25AM (#45818081)

    I tend to think it's just another symptom of the Race To The Bottom.

    Cut, cut, cut, then cut some more. And when there's nobody left to do the work you cut yet again.

    The Bottom Line looks good – for a while. The CXOs get their bonuses – and leave. Five years from now what'll be left?

  • by evilRhino (638506) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:27AM (#45818093)
    Fox News was established to give the Conservative (actually pro-corporate) point of view without fact checking. It's not an accident that this shift started 30 years ago, when the media was deregulated by the Reagan administration. It used to be that TV and radio companies (being totally dependent on the government regulation of their bandwidth via the FCC) would be obligated to provide the news as a public service even if it ran at a loss. It was allowed to become corporatized to turn a profit, at the expense of credibility.
  • by Kimomaru (2579489) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:28AM (#45818109)
    Too true. People tune in to news not really for the purpose of getting information but to hear someone confirm that their world view is right. That's a cultural problem. I hate to say it, but the news itself isn't the problem.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:28AM (#45818115)

    Fox news is no different than the liberal media.
    They just get judged by a difference standard.

    If you're paying attention you should be disgusted with all of them.

  • No surprise at all (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Jawnn (445279) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:29AM (#45818125)
    When programming that celebrates anti-intellectualism is the hottest thing on teevee (I'm looking at you, Duck Dynasty fans), it should come as no surprise at all that quality journalism is not something that sponsors are interested in buying. Bread and circuses...
  • by some old guy (674482) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:30AM (#45818135)

    Even if there was such a thing as good, accurate, impartial journalism it would be utterly wasted on 99% of the population.

    Even when a big scandal like Snowden/NSA, the IRS hit list, or Fast and Furious do get newsplay, the average person is merely annoyed at having their up to the minute live coverage of NASCAR or the Kardashians interrupted.

    People are idiots.

  • by Kimomaru (2579489) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:38AM (#45818209)
    This is a different form of it. If you're tuning in to get information on what's going on in the world, that's a moment where the facts theselves shouldn't be related to a personal view. Like looking at a map. You're not looking at the map so that you can feel good about your views on religion, right? That's what the news is supposed to be, and it's not anymore.
  • Codswallop. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Roger Wilcox (776904) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:38AM (#45818213)

    This phenomenon is not new. The signal to noise ratio has been poor for millennia. I recall an adage: "Believe nothing that you hear and only half of what you see." The Internet has merely made this truth more apparent.

    If you think about it, the Internet might actually give us an advantage over our ancestors in this regard--fact-checking and cross-referencing are easier now than ever before.

    Of course, none of that excuses charlatan media corporations that publish bullshit stories in order to generate hits.

    On the other hand, they are only tarnishing their own credibility, and if they continue to do so they will eventually be viewed as sleazy tabloids. And if that's the image they want to project, there isn't much we can do about it. Some people like that stuff.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:45AM (#45818261)
    WHAT "liberal media"? They're ALL pro-corporate. You're the one not paying attention.
  • by squiggleslash (241428) on Monday December 30, 2013 @10:46AM (#45818271) Homepage Journal

    "Accountability"? For what?

    Here's the problem: There already is accountability. The problem is that it's not for what you feel it should be. The accountability is for producing entertainment. If the news is entertaining, the publisher will be rewarded. If the news isn't, the publisher will be weakened.

    In terms of accountability to inform, that was tossed out the window years ago - if, indeed, it ever existed. These days most people don't, actually, want to be informed. They want something that doesn't challenge them too much, and that makes them feel informed afterwards, while keeping them entertained. The occasional outright lie in such an environment is not merely tolerable, it's desirable.

    Entire news networks exist purely to tell people what they want to hear. Do you think that's an accident?

    The world shouldn't work like this, but it does anyway.

  • by wcrowe (94389) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:25AM (#45818551)

    For years, traditional news outlets have headed in the direction of airing or printing stories designed solely to elicit a reaction from the audience. The pattern has become, 1) Say something provacative. 2) Invite a reaction (tell us what YOU think). It's all designed to sell more ads. What is happening now is the logical, inevitable conclusion of this pattern. The old saying still appies, however. If something is too good to be true, it probably isn't. And I would extend that to say that if something is too bad to be true, it probably isn't. It will get worse before it gets better. After years of being essentially lied to from every direction we will, out of desperation, start to believe only what we want to believe, and assume that everything else is a lie.

  • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:34AM (#45818621)
    Seriously? Did you just attempt to move the goal posts when my reply was to your assertion that fact checking wasn't being done in the "good ole' days"?
  • by DutchUncle (826473) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:41AM (#45818681)
    Not fair. You asked for proof that things used to be better, that people used to care more about accuracy, and you were answered. It is *sad* that the examples are from a decade or more ago.
  • by mlts (1038732) on Monday December 30, 2013 @11:47AM (#45818723)

    Choosing foreign news sources is pretty much the only way to get decent, objective content about what is going on. European sources are a good bet, and even Al Jazeera has become a solid source of info. They are not completely unbiased, but the information is useful compared to the news channels in the US that (IMHO, of course), approach sensationalist fiction.

    Here in the US, it isn't about putting info on subscribers' screens. It is about putting stories up that get eyeballs and get people polarized. When in doubt, kick the old gun control thing around, or reinvent Terri Schiavo.

    As for Slashdot, nothing is perfect, but at least overt BS does get challenged in short order, which is one of the few places where that occurs.

  • by squiggleslash (241428) on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:06PM (#45818853) Homepage Journal

    Then how should the world work?

    I don't know, but at no point did I ever suggest anything remotely similar to thinking "something that is managed by (to borrow from a meme I hate) "Top Men"" would be a relevent replacement. At no point did I address or even go near the issue of who should impose accountability - my comment, when read by English speakers, was very clearly and unambigiously talking about the values news organizations should be accountable for.

    So knock it off with putting words into my mouth, still worse claiming I'm in favor of "Tyranny" because I think it's not a great thing that news organizations are rewarded for lying.

  • by Connie_Lingus (317691) on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:29PM (#45819017) Homepage

    the "news" has *always* had a underlying political propaganda element to it...why do you think it was such huge business back in the day, with Hurst and other moguls battling for ownership and control?

    it was NEVER what you claim it was.

    it's just naive to think's human nature to attempt to manipulate the attitudes and actions of was discovered a long time ago that mass media (first newspapers and then radio/tv) could *easily* basically control entire nations, be it war-drumming or affecting large social changes.

  • by operagost (62405) on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:38PM (#45819077) Homepage Journal

    It's just a natural reaction to Faux News i think

    And you're part of the problem.

    The obsessive focus of the political establishment on bogeymen like Fox News shows how shallow your objectives are. It's a fact of life that cable news is mostly entertainment. Ignoring the sensationalism and bias that occurs at MSNBC and CNN to focus on Fox News is dishonest and unproductive.

  • by operagost (62405) on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:39PM (#45819087) Homepage Journal
    This is the problem of the left: they think the truth has a political bias.
  • by onyxruby (118189) <> on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:40PM (#45819095)

    Nonsense, it all boils down to human nature and people seeking out the 'truth' that matches their political views. People seek out the news that reinforces their views just as they always have. When a story comes along that reinforces your political views it's likely to get you read it because it confirms that you are "right".

    The problem is that nowadays with the Internet we can make the problem with self referential reinforcement all the worse. Facebook, google and other sources are constantly trying to customize your news to make a tailored experience for you that will ensure you have higher click-through rates. They find the stories that you tend to click on and give you more of the same, after a while the result is that you only tend to see like minded stories. Log into a fresh computer and the news while look very different than the one you already use.

    For example the gay waitress claiming to be insulted on a receipt - lots of people bought the story because they wanted to believe these things happen. Almost nobody bothered to check with the couple accused of the insult, and when they did they showed a credit card statement proving they left a good tip. People want to believe the things that confirm their political beliefs and they will seek out the news that does that and avoid the news that proves them wrong. It's human nature.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 30, 2013 @12:56PM (#45819233)
    No, you are the one who is not. And for the record, liberal is NOT "anti-corporate" nor has it ever been - MPAA comes to mind. . It is mainly big government, but has always had it's hand in the corporate cookie dish.
    The mainstream media are quite liberal in that they often suppress stories that might possibly make the left look bad, except when it's so obvious there's no chance of hiding it, like the plethora of Obama scandals or stuff like Anthony Weiner. Or they, like NBC, decide to unethically edit a 9-11 tape to deliberately skew the public's perception to pursue their class division agenda. Fox has never stooped to that kind of tampering. If you can't see that MSNBC (for another example) is screaming liberal, with the likes of Rachel Maddow and Christ Matthews, you're just trolling.
  • by AK Marc (707885) on Monday December 30, 2013 @02:40PM (#45820365)
    30 years ago, I was quoted in a newspaper. The words in quotes were not mine, despite me talking directly to the author while she was holding a pen and pad. The substance wasn't far off, but lost all the nuance in my words.

    Go grab a paper from 30 years ago. Find a topic you are well-versed in. Read an article about it. You'll find they are way-off and more often than not, simply wrong. Now apply that accuracy to the rest of the paper.

    The real reason it's a problem now, is that people hear about it. I'd never heard of the NJ waitress with the anti-gay receipt until this article. In the old days, nobody would have. The hoaxes existed, but were all local, and the majors didn't bother to pickup up the smaller stories that are so great for hoaxes today.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 30, 2013 @04:26PM (#45821579)

    While Ted Turner is indeed liberal, CNN when he owned it wasn't an outright liberal viewpoint news outlet like Fox News is to conservative biased news today. CNN, especially during the time period of the first Iraq War, was doing an outstanding job when compared to the major three networks at the time. Where are these disenfranchised CNN viewers from then? I know there are plenty of them now as CNN has turned into a sensationalized shitstorm not worth watching, but to compare the CNN of Ted Turner days versus Murdoch's Fox News of today isn't fair at all. The fact that Turner is liberal is irrelevant. He did not exploit political fundamentalism and fanaticism like Murdoch did, and perfect to an art.

Never put off till run-time what you can do at compile-time. -- D. Gries