The Problem With Fake News

I grew up in a public family where rumors were a part of life. I don’t know if that’s what led me to my career in journalism, but I do know I was always interested in what was true and what wasn’t.

I understand that what’s true for me and what’s true for you can be different depending on our set of beliefs, how we were raised and our experiences. That said, facts are facts. They don’t lie. That is what is at stake in this spread of “fake news.”

I have begun to encounter it quite a bit in discussions with people I know who say, “Did you see this or that? Did you hear what so and so did? Did you read the latest…?” Often times, I’ll ask,“Where did you get that?” and they don’t know. Or, it’s several sources removed from wherever it originated. Most troubling, it’s often times an exaggeration, a distortion or even a total fabrication without them realizing it until they were told.

This is a dangerous trend, but it’s also an opportunity for all of us to become reporters ourselves and fact-check our sources—be they websites, individuals or social media. We should fact-check ourselves before we spread stories that we can’t corroborate as truth.

Just this week, Pope Francis said misinformation is probably the greatest damage that the media can do. He went on to not only caution the media, but to caution all of us to think twice about the penchant for covering scandals and covering nasty things—even if they are true.

I was also relieved to see President-Elect Trump fire Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s son from his inner circle after he spread an insane rumor about Hillary Clinton. But, it took a violent moment (which occurred because of the fake story) to get everyone’s attention about what he and others were spreading. (Note to the President-Elect: please monitor his father’s Twitter feed as well, as his tweets could be even more dangerous.)

The truth is, it shouldn’t have to go as far as Pizzagate to get our national attention. Rumors and bullying are hurtful. Trust me, I get that. I know they are almost impossible to curtail in this voracious news cycle, but fake news is dangerous to our national reputation, our national justice system and perhaps most importantly, to our national security.

So, before everyone lumps all of the media into a disaster bin, let’s take a beat. Real solid journalism—a journalism of facts, a free journalism—has never been more needed or more important. We all have a chance to support organizations that believe in facts and to support reporters who do their jobs based upon the truth. We all have a role in giving power to truth in our homes, in our social and professional conversations, and in our political discourse. It impacts our judicial system, our political system, our free press, and at the end of the day, who we are as human beings and as Americans.

We can see the world through our own eyes, but we can’t make up our own facts.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about this week. What about you?

About the Author

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Maria Shriver is a mother of four, a Peabody and Emmy Award-winning journalist and producer, a six-time New York Times best-selling author, and an NBC News Special Anchor covering the shifting roles, emerging power and evolving needs of women in modern life. Since 2009, Shriver has produced a groundbreaking series of Shriver Reports that chronicle and explore seismic shifts in the American culture and society affecting women today. Shriver was California’s First Lady from 2003 to 2010 and, during that time, she spearheaded what became the nation's premier forum for women, The Women's Conference. Shriver's work is driven by her belief that all of us have the ability to be what she calls Architects of Change -- people who see a problem in their own life or the community around them, then step out of their comfort zone and do what it takes to create the solution. Like her page on Facebook or follow her on Instagram.

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