Fake News, Social Media and the Downfall of the U.S.

01/04/2017 09:23 am ET Updated Jan 06, 2017

As I have stated numerous times, a large part of our society only reads the headlines and reacts to these headlines as if they are fact. Now add the preponderance of “fake news” (yes, stories that are actually made-up), combine them with social media, and you have a potential firestorm. Given that fake news, and/or careless statements made on social media, have caused people to make death threats, bully people and even commit violent acts, one might think our political leaders would want to do something. However, it seems quite the opposite. Some leaders are using these tactics to widen the divide in our country for political gain.

After reading on social media a report that Comet Ping Pong (a Washington D.C. pizza shop) was a haven for child abusers and the center of some Clinton-backed child pornography ring, Edgar Maddison Welch from North Carolina decided he was going to intervene. He went to the shop and opened fire. This story was false and luckily no one was hurt. Mr. Welch was apprehended by the police.

Fake stories abound on social media. They often are filled with hyperbole and have very inflammatory headlines. What is truly dangerous is the rate in which they are shared - particularly on Facebook. Stories about both presidential candidates that were untrue, or at least not fact-checked, blasted through social media at lightning speed. Many people drew conclusions from these unfounded headlines and stories.

Similar to the danger of fake news on social media, statements made by leaders - who are not necessarily restrained by facts - can have a massive and dangerous reaction. Some leaders, reporting that the “election is rigged” (which is completely unfounded) still have some people believing that our election system is totally broken.

Additionally, Madeline Farber reported for Fortune Magazine that after union president, Chuck Jones (Steelworkers Local 1999), made a statement that President-elect Trump exaggerated the number of Carrier jobs he saved for the United States, Mr. Trump tweeted that Mr. Jones “has done a terrible job representing workers.” After that tweet, Mr. Jones received several calls at home from people stating things like they “were coming for him” and “keep your eye on your kids.”

This is not a Republican or Democrat issue; it seems that both parties use fake news and social media to gain support. Fake news and the spread of such reports in other countries has been called “propaganda” and is used by leaders for control. I suspect that we never thought it would happen in the U.S. because our media is independent from the government. It has exercised freedom of the press and has tried to research stories before publishing them. Today, however, un-researched “news” is blasted across the Internet and lands on our devices every day - and powerful people are using it.

Colleges, like Fulton-Montgomery Community College, have a responsibility to teach students to question statements made - particularly broad, sweeping and inflammatory statements that hit our devices. We must teach students to know the sources and fact-check before accepting statements. MSNBC will have a liberal slant while FOX NEWS will have a conservative slant; know that before accepting every statement.

Large numbers of the U.S. population remain under-educated. It is very easy, and dangerous, to insight a reaction from those who do not know how to question “news.” Fake news, social media and a population that does not know real news from fake news, combined with leaders who have no interest in closing the divide in America, will take us to a very bad place.

CONVERSATIONS