After the misguided attack on Comet Ping Pong last week, the mainstream media has collectively freaked out about “fake news.” But a recent poll suggests Americans don’t consider stopping the spread of false information to be the job of the government, social media sites, web service providers, or search engines. Instead, they say the buck stops with the readers themselves.
When asked “Who should be most responsible for ensuring people are not exposed to fake news?” 24 percent of Americans pointed to “the person reading the news,” according to the Morning Consult poll. Twenty percent said they “don’t know” who should be most responsible, while 17 percent pointed to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Fourteen percent said the government should be responsible, while 10 percent said web service providers and 9 percent pointed to search engines like Google.
More than half (55 percent) said that on more than one occasion they started reading a story only to realize it wasn’t true. Thirty-one percent reported seeing fake news more than once a day on the Internet.
While Americans said most of the responsibility to deal with fake news lies with the reader or consumer of news themselves, they also agreed that many actors share responsibility for the problem. A full two-thirds of Americans said the person reading the news (66 percent) and search engines like Google (67 percent) share responsibility, and more than half also listed social media sites (63 percent), web service providers (61 percent), and the government (56 percent) as partially to blame.
In the end, however, the buck stops with the individual reader, consumer, and sharer of news. This position makes a great deal of sense. Take the attack on Comet Ping Pong, for instance. The attacker, Edgar Welch, believed the “pizzagate” conspiracy theory about John Podesta running a pedophilia network out of Comet Ping Pong, which is a pizzeria. Welch aimed to free the little girls being abused, and ran in with an assault rifle, only to discover that there were no girls being held hostage and sold for sex.
Luckily, Welch turned himself in to the police, without physically harming anyone. But the people who read about pizzagate and shared the stories without any disclaimer that they might not be true contributed to Welch’s ultimate decisions. Had Welch done other research, he might have discovered for himself that the story was false. When such a story can inspire such action, it is his responsibility to be as certain as possible before taking any action.
The problem with the “fake news” crusade is that many political causes skew stories in their favor. PJ Media has reported numerous “fake news” stories reported by the mainstream media — including stories like the dire threat of climate change, which continue to be repeated until people believe them.
Next Page: Why some “fake news” deserves to be protected.
But on the flip side, there is satirical news which makes people laugh and serves a good purpose. Sites like “The Onion” and “The Babylon Bee” provide hilarious content that is 100 percent fake. They make no bones about it — they are not reporting the facts, and that’s the point. Indeed, PJ Media’s headlines occasionally begin “Not The Onion,” in order to emphasize that the story being reported seems like satire, but is real news.
If, in the rush to prevent the spread of fake news, governments, search engines, service providers, and social media sites were to crack down on “The Onion” and “The Babylon Bee,” that would not be fair or a public service — it would be a travesty. But these sites do peddle “fake news” — in fact, that’s the reason they exist. It is the reader’s responsibility to sort these stories out. If you see a story is from “The Onion,” don’t share it like it’s a real news story. Ditto for The “Babylon Bee.” This is common sense, really.
Or so you would think, until you read that 18 percent (!) of Americans consider “The Onion” to be “very credible” or “somewhat credible.” Also key to note while reading liberal outlets condemning “fake news”: More Democrats (22 percent) than Republicans (16 percent) consider “The Onion” a reliable source for real news.
In the end, the responsibility for telling fact from fiction lies with the readers themselves. Americans know this, and the media should take it to heart. Before liberals call for more government involvement in the stories on the Internet, they should remember that the buck stops with everyone.