If the recently elected United States president, the self-professed “wonderful Donald Trump”, is to be believed, then we are all under attack from a common enemy he has branded “fake news”.
Many of the allegations that spew forth from Trump are – at best – far-fetched. Others are just plain wrong.
But not this one.
Fake news is, ironically, a very real problem. It’s just that the president’s attacks are misguided.
When Trump says “fake news”, what he really means is “a story critical of my presidency”.
What he should be opposing is the quagmire of entirely false online content that masquerades as journalism, spreading misinformation every time someone clicks ‘share’ on Facebook or ‘re-tweet’ on Twitter.
These articles and the pretenders who write them manage to dupe their readers by looking and sounding a lot like traditional news sources.
Such a story ran amok online this week when website Sunday Inquirer falsely reported the case of a Bendigo man gone blind, the consequence of a lewd encounter in Thailand.
An online search quickly confirmed the story was taken from a satirical news site, with key details refreshed to suit its new, Bendigonian audience.
This made-up story might seem harmless if indeed the character at its core is a fictional one.
But for the man pictured alongside the story, whose image was taken from an old and unrelated online article, this is surely no laughing matter.
It is also no joke for the hospital that the writer claims to have contacted.
What’s to say that next time the fake story’s subject matter won’t be more serious, the implication more dangerous?
Readers need to remain alert when navigating this rapidly changing media environment.
When struggling to filter through the glut of material posted online, the best thing a reader can do is return to the sources of news that have long been trusted to keep them in the loop. These mastheads, including the Bendigo Advertiser, are more important than ever because they have a proven track record of printing the truth.
The reputation of these media outlets is too important to be whittled away reporting a trivial story designed just to conjure gossip.
- Mark Kearney, journalist