At the League of Women Voters of San Diego September “Sips & Civility” event at the San Diego Central Library, Snopes’ Managing Editor, Brooke Binkowski kicked off the discussion on how to fight fake news.
Binkowski began her career in journalism at 18, with a staff of 24.
That group now has a staff of just 3.
The first way to combat fake news or disinformation, according to Brooke, is to reverse the ongoing reduction in the number of journalists at news organizations. While there are numerous articles and reminders written on how to be “news literate,” the dearth of journalists has not been touted on the front page very often.
Brooke said, “The Internet has made it very easy to aggregate material. It’s a net good, I think, but it’s also made it easy for people who don’t like to pay journalists to not pay us. So this has created sort of an informational vacuum in which disinformation has risen to fill this void.”
“It’s not unprecedented, it’s happened before, but I think one of the crucial things for people to remember when they start talking about how to fix fake news, is that there are not enough journalists employed right now to help flood it out. And that’s really the only way, in my opinion, that fake news and these issues can be fixed. We need more working journalists. That’s not all, but I think that that would be a huge step.”
She continued, asking anyone who can donate to news rooms to do so, saying “we [journalists] need it, democracy needs it…journalism is essential to a healthy democracy.”
Brooke emphasized that ‘flooding out’ fake news could be more effective than educating people to look for disinformation actively. In her opinion, filling the void with vetted information is a practical first step to getting rid of disinformation. She stated, “We need to put more vetted information about there so people can know.”
Brooke said she finds hope in the fact that traffic is up on Snopes, taking this to mean that “people still care and they still want to know what’s going on in the world around them.”
“Disinformation is probably the worst [compared to propaganda] because it mixes lies and the truth to come to a conclusion that is inaccurate and misleading but is also used to sway public opinion, and this is what we’re seeing right now… Disinformation has dramatically affected the behavior of the United States in the past year.”
She continued, “[fake news] has always been an issue… It’s always existed in one form or another. I want people to remember that because it does seem at the moment as though everything is so overwhelming and hopeless that it can’t ever be overcome, and that we’re going to be stuck in this dystopian, fake news world forever. I’m here to tell you that no, that’s not the case, and honestly, we will get out of this.”
Fake news stems from a multitude of motivations: people write disinformation as a joke, to meet a political goal, to foster dislike and like for a certain group, etc. Brooke said, “The end goal is chaos, and to destroy [our] sense of unity as a country.”
She asked people to “keep our eyes on what’s important, which is a sense of unity as a country, and a sense that democracy is essential for who we are as a country, and that journalism is an essential part of democracy. Those are three things that have been attacked quite a lot, and that is the real goal and the real aim of disinformation.”
After Brooke spoke for nearly half an hour, the event broke into numerous discussion groups and the 200+ attendees began chatting about how they combat fake news in their own lives.