25 January 2017

Reality checking jeopardises readers' skills

Readers risk losing their investigative integrity to schemes like Reality Check

The BBC’s Reality Check confiscates readers’ essential investigative skills in a society where social media now dominates the way we spread and consume news.

In an industry that relies heavily on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter for news dispersal, increased speculation over the existence of fake news online has become evermore prevalent. Especially since conjecture over its negative effect on the US presidential election and the UK referendum; it is understandable the BBC felt the need to step up and announce their debunking service, Reality Check.

However, is it not the reader’s call to decide whether what they are reading is legitimate and if so, to consume it or not? Questioning the plausibility of news offers opportunity for a diversity in reader interpretation – Reality Check takes this away.

Whilst BBC news chief James Harding describes Reality Check to Elle Hunt as: “weighing in on the battle over lies, distortions and exaggerations”, it is difficult to find the reasoning behind self-acclaimed responsibility for fact-checking.

Figures have revealed our personal intuition skills are rusty, taking a recent study from Stanford’s Graduate School of Education for example. The study found a shocking proportion of American middle school, high school and college students were unable to distinguish even basic level adverts from articles. It seems that it's not necessarily what is included in the articles that is stumping us readers. The error can also sometimes lie in the deceiving formats and appearances fake news articles have assumed.

Perhaps the BBC should aid readers' understanding of fake news and thus also help to combat it by imparting their journalistic knowledge on readers. Highlighting the complexity of fake news algorithms and formatting tricks will better inform the people – the people to whom news matters.

There is therefore no time like the present for readers of iffy copy to be learning and exercising analytical skills when reading news digitally. Knowing what to look for in fake news will increase the popularity of ‘slow news’- news that is pulled apart and analysed will, in James’ words: “help us explain the world we’re living in,” and thus in turn trigger a natural disinterest in news that readers have governed as fake.

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