By Christopher Crino
From a psychology students’ perspective false news is dangerous to our democracy, as memory is very malleable and what we see in the news can affect us in a great way. People can form opinions and attitudes about topics and news with false information, our opinions could be swayed before the false information is caught and corrected. False information could cause unnecessary panic and even influence elections.
For example, with the Spanish-American War and how the rise of yellow journalism pushed us into a war with the Spanish over the sinking of the USS Maine. There have been quite a few studies on how the media can affect people’s opinion and attitudes, one would be by the founders of the anchoring effect Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in a 1974 paper. People can form anchors for their opinions without them being aware of it, For example, if you were to see a crazy headline in a newspaper like “Did the Spanish sink the Maine??” and then the next day you see a headline that says “Unemployment is on the rise” you probably won’t remember the second headline, but the people are to blame as well as we tend to remember things that are more interesting or that grab our attention.
Before modern media there were tabloids that were responsible for spreading fake news. Perhaps the most famous example of this kind of fake news coverage would have to be the yellow journalists around the time of the Spanish-American War. According to the Library of Congress that the yellow journalist created large amounts of hysteria over the situation in Cuba, including the alleged sinking of the USS Maine in Havana harbor by the Spanish, in order to drag the United States into conflict over the tiny island nation. The name that is most often associated with this kind of journalism is William Randolph Hearst and his massive media empire.
Sadly, in modern times, there has been a massive explosion of fake news in the media. An example of the fake news being spread in modern society would be the spread of false accusations on social media platforms. While posts on social media platforms are not held in the same light as professional journalism, these platforms play a critical role in how most people receive their news information today. Yet, posts on these sites can be made by any random person with a pulse. This means that the posts are not always trustworthy, so lies can rapidly spread across the internet before they can be debunked by credited sources. A couple examples of this would be the pizza gate conspiracy theory or the fake story about Seth Rich and his mysterious murder that led to the crazy conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton was having people assassinated which thankfully BBC debunked. To make matters worse, in this regard, there was an active campaign displayed by Donald Trump to demonize credible media sources. This campaign allowed the false narratives to spread even easier than ever before. If false media still pursues in the future there will have to be some form of regulation in order to cut down on false information impacting our democracy.
Christopher Crino is a student in a Media and Democracy class at St. Bonaventure University.