Donald Trump’s #WatersportsGate: A student journalist’s concern about ‘fake news’

A student journalist complaining about fake news is nothing new. Buzzfeed’s recent article about Trump, dubbed ‘#watersportsgate’ on Twitter, included unverified allegations that Russia has embarrassing information about the President-elect of the United States. It is just the latest in a string of stories which should be double-checked ahead of publication (if it is to be published at all). We’ve been here before, but how we got in this fake news cycle and how we get out of it are the two interesting questions to answer.

The stories about ‘#watersportsgate’ and Donald Trump are just the latest in a string of unverified or fake news making the front pages when they shouldn’t have done. Photo: Gage Skidmore on Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.

Journalism and politics have always been closely connected. Most of the time, the latter drives the former when it comes to news stories. However, the media’s commitment to reporting the political climate can also lead to the emotions attached to the stories bleeding through. Cue Brexit.

It was a referendum filled with emotion – fear and anger in particular. Feelings replaced facts (known as ‘post-truth’, which was the 2016 word of the year) because there were minimal, if any, statistics to show what would happen after either result. With limited facts but a whole lot of emotion to cover, the media started to become tempted by post-truth and sensationalism.
That being said, not all of the blame can be shifted onto journalists and politicians. As consumers of news, we want to process information as fast as possible, taking stories at face value before moving onto the next story. There’s no time to stop and think in the world of fast-paced media consumption, but given that we live in a world dominated by social media, that cannot be helped.

On the topic of fast-paced news consumption, this has also led to a push for viral news as well. Today, with Buzzfeed’s article… Are we really surprised that they were the ones to run with it? They are an organisation which thrives on viral content, so what better a story than one which is filled with sensationalism and controversy? It’s to be expected.

We must examine the relationship between journalists and politicians, and both of their responsibilities to share factual information. Whilst politics is slowly moving towards the facts – as and when Theresa May decides to reveal her plans for Brexit – journalists must use their power of manipulating the masses (see the hypodermic needle theory) to change public opinion once more. IPSO must be harsher on organisations breaching the accuracy clause with fake news, and as the British public face uncertainty over Brexit, the news media must come forward offering facts as a form of hope.

Although this article talks about eradicating fake news in the UK, it’s still relevant when it comes to the case with Trump is in the United States. The solutions can be applied in any Western country, at a time where nationalism and emotions are running high. Whilst, of course, these sentiments must be debated in our democracy, we cannot afford to let the emotions embed themselves in Western journalism. What’s concerning for future journalists is this: if the one place where the public goes for the truth becomes untrustworthy, to whom do they turn?

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6 thoughts on “Donald Trump’s #WatersportsGate: A student journalist’s concern about ‘fake news’

  1. Good on you to pick up on fake news.

    Journalism and politics have always been closely connected, Very true when both are riddled with half-truths.

    Truths are viewed from many different viewpoints so can have different accounts of what is true.

    If hard facts are supplied to back up the argument, then it is more closer to truth, preferably from two or more sources, remember the dodgy dossier as justification for the Iraq war.

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    • Thanks, Peter! It’s interesting that you mentioned news being verified by two or more sources, as I’m sure that this is something the BBC adopts – two sources to verify the news before publication.

      In amongst the fake news, it’s this simple editorial guideline which is truly preserving honest reporting. If only some other news organisations followed suit.

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  2. To be honest, I think that a man who rode to power on fake news has no right to complain when it’s used against him. And have you read about the press conference at which he refused to speak to CNN – and none of the other journalists packed up their equipment and left. In some ways I can understand. If your boss ordered you to go and get news, you really can’t go back and say you did a protest. But it’s not good behaviour. And it rewards Trump’s bad behaviour. If you want to be ethical, Liam, I suggest you stay freelance.

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    • Very true, Donald Trump did make some false claims during the election, so I can see where you’re coming from – it’s quite hypocritical.

      You’re right about the point: “you can’t really go back and say you did a protest”. Whilst studying journalism at university, we’ve had a lot of discussions about persistence and not being quick to abandon a story and so forth.

      As for staying freelance in order to be ethical, I disagree. In the UK, we have Ofcom for TV news, and the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) for print news. I like to think that both do a good job of keeping media organisations in line when it comes to ethics.

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  3. I think you make a very fascinating point here. I’m curious to see if you still feel this way now. I know that certain news outlets in the states have had some of the best years, in regards to subscriptions, in a long time. Fake news was incredibly intimidating and harmful during and closely following the election. But now that time has past, it would be interesting to weigh both sides of the issue. The detrimental aspect of fake news and the positive attribution ethical and credible news sources have gained through all of this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your comment and the kind words; I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      I definitely think there’s a crossover between politics and news. I’m also becoming increasingly interested in the use of ‘fake news’ by Trump to shut down criticism.

      Oh, absolutely. I think there are those two factors to consider. I think, with regards to fake news – used by Trump to avoid criticism – the public support of the press is growing.

      It’s a bold claim, but I think ‘fake news’ in the US is the challenge their media have to face. The UK press is recovering from Leveson, the US press will have to deal with ‘fake news’ for years to come, I think.

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