Opinion: What can radio do about Fake News?

by Justin Kings

“Fake news” was a thing long before it came from the mouth of President Donald Trump.

As a journalist who has spent much of the last eight years flying around the world helping radio editors and reporters unlock the power of social media, “fake news” has been this Social Media Man’s Kryptonite!

We’re not talking about Trump’s brand of fake news which he accuses the mainstream media of peddling but the shadowy hoax sites which make up stories that get shared like crazy on sites like Facebook. It is important to make that distinction.

Crucially, as I am sure you’re aware, these bogus stories misinformed and misled voters in the US election. In fact, Buzzfeed reported there was more engagement around fake news on Facebook at this time than there was for real journalism.

The website reported that in the last 3 months of campaigning, the 20 highest performing hoax election stories from not just fake sites but also extreme partisan blogs racked up almost 9 million engagements on Facebook.

Facebook has said it is trying to police dodgy news but, although we didn’t create the menace of hoax news, what we can do as legitimate media to help stamp it out?

Just as journalists have been trained to detect whether information they see on social media is real or not, I think we can help our audiences develop basic skills by asking, “have I ever heard of this news organisation?” and, “if I Google this headline, can I find any other news organisation I have heard of reporting it?”

The message is simple and it is an old one for a new age – don’t believe everything you read.

This summer, I’ll be expanding on this topic in a new 12 week Social Media and News online course for the University of Florida. Yes, it’s a class teaching about fake news (amongst other topics) – a genuine news story in its own right! I think it is crucial that current and aspiring journalists understand we as a group of professionals have an important role to play in smashing bogus reporting.

From work in media literacy to the journalism we create and a will to share with our audiences the story behind the story; to shed more light on how we work hard to be accurate and fair.

Legitimate media organisations including radio have a golden opportunity to recommit to quality journalism, even if it is just 3 minutes at the top of the hour. Accuracy makes or breaks the trust an audience has in a news organisation and we should be transparent in sharing with audiences our commitment to it.

UK radio journalists are invited to register for Justin Kings’ online Social Media and News course for the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Read more here.

Justin is Lead Social Media Trainer with the EUROVISION ACADEMY. Previously, he was Assistant Editor at BBC Radio London and Group News Editor at Capital Radio/GCap Media. Follow Justin on Twitter @newsleader

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