In conclusion, although
it is important to recognise that fake news as an ongoing issue in today’s
world, this has not rendered journalism ineffective of fulfilling its crucial
purpose. There is not a single definition that defends journalism’s importance,
but it is instead a combination of roles that journalism plays – including to
inform, to act as the ‘fourth estate’, to allow individuals to make educated
decisions and to allow a diversity of opinion – that establishes it as an
essential aspect of modern society. Despite the examples of fake news that are
evident in established news outlets, it is important that we do not allow
politicians to blow the problem out of proportion in order to escape
accountability and also to understand the fact that a large amount of fake news
originates from websites or individuals who have no interest in upholding the
integrity of journalism, but are instead motivated by the financial incentives
of ad revenue, supporting a political cause or the desire to go viral and be

can also make it easy for people to brandish information that they don’t agree
with as fake news, for just like politicians are protecting their own agenda,
everyone is now constantly upholding an online reputation. Therefore, in this
sense it is not journalism that must defend itself against fake news, but
society that must realise that judgement from others online should not prevent
us from opening our minds to a different way of understanding various issues
and matters that are important to us.

Consumption of the news has become a performance that
can’t be solely about seeking information or even entertainment. What we choose
to “like” or follow is part of our identity, an indication of our social class
and status, and most frequently our political persuasion. (Wardle and Derakhshan,

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Lastly, it is also the
role of journalism to represent a variety of perspectives on issues but not
allow the core facts to become lost in opinion. In today’s society, people often gravitate towards news outlets
and websites that will reaffirm their own opinions as opposed to challenging
them or offering a different perspective.
This is due to the fact that social media now means that the information we
consume and where we access it is an extension of ourselves that everyone can
see through our likes, retweets and various other methods by which we create an
online footprint. This can dissuade us
from reading information that challenges our views in case people assume that we
share the viewpoints made in an article, blog or other form of news:

Moreover, with regards to
journalism’s role of acting as the ‘fourth estate’, another key definition
often associated is the idea that journalism allows individuals to make informed
decisions, with journalist’s purpose: ‘…to report and create the mix and maw of
the marketplace of ideas and information which can be utilized to make both
informed political choices and decisions about daily life.’ (Ashdown, 1994,
p.682). The ‘political choices’ mentioned in this definition refer to the
responsibility of citizens to vote, with journalism providing a wealth of
political knowledge and analysis that individuals often utilise during
elections when deciding on a political candidate or voting on a political
issue. There is currently an ongoing debate about whether fake news can
influence voter’s decisions at the ballot box, however it is agreed that there
is a large amount of fake news being produced in an attempt to create political
bias. One major example of this is the 2016 US presidential election and the
widespread controversy surrounding Russian Government’s alleged involvement. According
to an article by the Independent, Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg disclosed that
the organisation sold more than $100,000 (£76,000) worth of advertisements
during the 2016 US presidential election to a Russian establishment with links
to the Kremlin. Furthermore, the report states that it is believed by some that
individuals were paid by Russian ‘troll factories’ to constantly distribute
fake news stories on social media ‘around the clock’ in an attempt to influence
the outcome of the election (Roberts, 2017). This suggests that fake news has
the potential to impact on a voter’s behaviour, however it is important to note
that the information in many cases of fake news is not produced by established
news outlets, but instead by fake websites whose sole purpose is to create
false content in order to support or defame a particular political figure or
party. Moreover, there is still quality, well-founded political commentary
produced by trusted news sites that is hopefully able to counter the torrent of
fake news and expose it before it is believed.

Alternatively, there is
the definition of journalism functioning as the ‘fourth estate’, an essential
pillar of democracy alongside the three other ‘estates of the realm’: the
clergy (Lords Spiritual), the nobility (Lords Temporal) and the commoners
(Anon, no date). In this sense, journalism is responsible for scrutinising the
work of government and holding government officials accountable for their
actions by operating as a kind of watchdog. This also necessitates that the
press is not controlled or constrained by government, as a free press is
essential to democratisation and establishing freedom of expression in terms of
citizen’s human rights (Norris, 2008, chapter 8, p.1). Politicians have often
attempted to demonise the press in incidences where the reporting of a news
outlet did not comply with the individual’s own political agenda. In recent
times, politicians brandishing critical news report as fake news has become a
means of creating a culture of distrust in the mainstream media, with one of
the most prominent examples having already been mentioned, President Donald
Trump. Over the course of his election campaign and presidency, Trump repeatedly
accused mainstream media of producing fake news, going so far as to announce a
fake news awards in a tweet from the 2nd of January 2018: ‘I will be announcing THE MOST DISHONEST
& CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR on Monday at 5:00 o’clock. Subjects will
cover Dishonesty & Bad Reporting in various categories from the Fake News
Media. Stay tuned!’ (@realDonaldTrump, 2018). Despite
this, it is important that journalists continue to scrutinise politicians and
remain free from government influence in order to function as an effective
check on government, despite the fact that this may attract unfavourable
comments from those in power who would much prefer to be able to hold positions
of power without being held accountable for their actions.

Firstly, the speed of
today’s news cycle has increased exponentially. This means that despite the
vast amounts information we now have access to, what is considered current and
up-to-date news can change not only daily, but by the hour. Consequently,
journalists are constantly fighting to stay on the cusp of developing stories
in an attempt to break news ahead of competitors, which can lead to news
outlets producing content that may not have been thoroughly researched or
validated before being released into public domain. For example, on the 12th
of January 2017 a tweet announcing that former Big Brother contestant Rebekah
Shelton has passed away was posted on her Twitter account (Kelly, 2018) with mainstream
news outlets such as the Metro reporting on the death. However, the 32-year-old
later posted a video to confirm that she was in fact alive and that the tweet
had been the result of a hacker. This case also highlights the issue of using
social media as a news source, as much of what is posted on social media is
from ordinary people who are not answerable to the ethics of the journalistic
profession: ‘Peddlers of fake stories have no reputation to maintain and no
incentive to stay honest; they are only interested in the clicks.’ (Standage, 2017).
Therefore, journalism is still necessary in order to inform as journalists are
professionals at their craft and despite time constraints will still, in most
cases, take the time to research and investigate an issue. Additionally, it is
important that journalists are able to identify incidences of fake news from
the internet and social media in order to prevent spreading false information,
allowing the profession to become a part of the solution as opposed to part of
the problem.

In terms of defending
journalism against accusations of fake news, it is important to determine the
role that journalism plays and how it is a necessary for our society to
function effectively. To begin with, one of the main definitions attributed to
journalism is its purpose to inform. Described in the most basic terms: ‘the
journalistic mission remains at its simplest: know your patch, and use your
knowledge to try and tell readers what is actually going on.’ (Murphy, 2015, p149).
This supports the assertion of Victorian newspaper editor and journalistic
trailblazer W.T Stead who stated that journalists ‘act as the eye and the ear
and the tongue of the people’ (W.T Stead, 1886). This suggests that, above all
else, journalism is about the passing on of information in a way that it can be
comprehended and understood by every individual, however the developments in
social media and the internet have drastically altered the way in which data is
now sent and received.

Despite the fact that Trump may have popularised the expression,
according to American dictionary Merriam-Webster (2017) the phrase ‘fake news’
has been in general use since the end of the 1800s. Furthermore, the word
‘fake’ is a fairly recent addition to the English language with it first being
recorded in terms of its current definition in an 1819 dictionary of criminal
slang by James Hardy Vaux, ‘A New and Comprehensive Vocabulary of Flash
Language’ (Anthony Jones, 2017). In fact, previous to fake news becoming the
preferred term, unreliable or fabricated news was referred to as ‘false news’,
with this term appearing as far back as 1575 (Merriam-Webster, 2017).
Therefore, this shows that the issue of unreliable reports in newspapers and
other media has existed for centuries, however the phenomenon of fake news in today’s
society has become exacerbated by a range of factors including political
influences and the explosion of the internet and social media.

The use of the term ‘fake
news’ has become increasingly popular over the course of the last few years, so
much so that it was named word of the year by Collins Dictionary in 2017 (Flood,
2017). It defines the term as: ‘False,
often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.’ (Collins Dictionary, 2017).
The increase in the use of the phrase may be attributed to the fact that it was
a staple of the Trump election campaign and subsequent presidency, with Trump
often using the term to describe unfavourable media reports against him.
Moreover, in October 2017 Donald Trump seemingly claimed to have coined the
term ‘fake news’ in an interview with Mick Huckabee for TBN (2017): ‘The media is really, the word, one of the greatest of
all terms I’ve come up with, is “fake”‘.

In recent times the issue
of ‘fake news’ has become a prominent concern in society, leading to doubt and
suspicion being directed towards news outlets by individuals who feel as though
they can no longer trust journalists to report accurately on the world’s
affairs. This culture of mistrust is perpetuated by politicians and those in
power who attempt to undermine media reports that do not correlate with their
political agenda. Additionally, advancements in technology and the rise of
social media has drastically altered the way in which we find and receive our
news. The constant bombardment of data from a variety of sources can make it
difficult to try and navigate the labyrinth of information we receive daily,
and to understand which reports are true and which are fabricated
sensationalism designed as clickbait. Therefore, it is important to consider the
way in which journalism still serves as a valuable asset in modern society and
how the profession can still function effectively despite the charges levelled
against it.


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