Freelance Writing and Opinion Pieces: Beware of Spreading Fake News

Updated on June 5, 2018
CharmMatters profile image

Author Charm Baker writes opinion pieces and fact-based articles on diverse topics. Her expertise is the writing/self-publishing category.

Freelance writing on the internet has given rise to all kinds of web owners, bloggers, reviewers, and social media gurus who share their opinions in the bat of an eye. Needless to say, there is a lot of misinformation being passed along. Oftentimes, commentaries, editorials and opinion pieces are read and accepted as fact. Although these type of pieces typically contain bias and a slanted viewpoint, some readers mistakenly take opinion pieces to be totally and absolutely correct. But does a truthfully stated fact automatically amount to a correct viewpoint? Not necessarily. It is definitely possible to twist the facts, in order to spin a false narrative, especially in an opinion piece. That is why facts should be stated as facts, and opinions should be labeled accordingly. If you continue reading, you’ll see why freelance writers who share opinions need to beware of spreading false news.

Sharing Online

People all over the world enjoy writing, re-posting, and sharing information online. Just think about how many times you have even read something yourself, and felt the need to pass it along on social media. Perhaps you’re a freelancer who enjoys writing articles and commentaries or a blogger who likes to express your personal views. No matter which category you fall into, you should realize that you have an obligation to your readers and followers. If you’re a conscientious online writer (no matter what your level of expertise) you should be committed to providing as much factual information on a subject as possible. Writers owe it to readers to provide accurate details about whatever they happen to be discussing. Failing to understand and accept this important obligation could lead to spreading fake news online.

Let’s consider 3 key points about “fake news”

  • The Origin
  • The Guilty
  • The Solution

The Origin

First let’s take a step back and consider the origin of the whole “fake news” catch phrase. Wikipedia, a widely accepted online encyclopedia, says that “fake new” has reference to a “type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes.” It goes on to say that social media is a main distribution channel for dispersing the misinformation of this fake news. We also learn that print and traditional broadcast news outlets are not immune, because fake news has periodically made its way to the mainstream media. There are a variety of reasons that motivate those who purposely push fake news, including financial and political gain. The ultimate objective of the information is to offer influential details to the reader. In turn, the information has the ability to benefit the originator of the news, by resulting in some type of disadvantage or harm to a person, company, group or entity.

It is the above description that the BBC article had in mind when they wrote on the topic of “fake news” and mentioned the origin of the term. BBC is a reputable news source that makes a point of checking and citing credible sources, just like in their reporting on what Craig Silverman had to say. Silverman is actually a media editor for the popular Buzzfeed news media outlet. Speaking on the subject of fake news, Silverman told how he was instrumental in the initial reporting. He told how he “noticed a funny stream of completely made-up stories that seemed to originate from one small Eastern European town.”

Of course, we now know that these stories and other forms of fake news were successfully used to try and help influence the 2016 election. The exceptional work of the Buzzfeed staff led to the unveiling of how fake news was being disseminated in connection with the election. Thanks to Silverman and a colleague’s investigating, no less than 140 fake news websites were identified. The reporting went on to show that the fake sites were managing to pull in a record number of hits on Facebook.

The New Meaning

The original definition of the fake news expression referred to actual misleading news reports that were identified and confirmed to be untrue in nature. But since that time, the term fake news has also begun to be viewed in a different way. In fact, when we think about how the term ”fake news” is mostly being thrown around and viewed today, a particular name may pop into your mind: Donald Trump. One online news source states, “The fake news phenomenon grew when Donald Trump accused CNN of pushing "fake news" during a heated press conference in New York, on January 11, 2017.” Following that conference, the Trump Administration found a way to give a new meaning to the words “fake news.” Since that time, President Trump has cast doubt on the reliability of news journalists, insisting that fake news permeates the entire cable news force, as well as most of the mainstream media.

Ironically, while President Trump continues sounding the alarm about the overwhelming existence of fake news; non-Trump supporters point out his hypocrisy. They claim that it is actually Mr. Trump who spouts the most falsehoods to the press. Highly reputable sources have offered concrete facts that show glaring inconsistencies with statements Donald Trump has made to the media in the past. These news sources point to President Trump’s own previously published statements, news sound bites, and even official documentation, as evidence of his misleading the public. One Washington Post article reported: President Trump has made 3,001 false or misleading claims so far.

Does that mean that his many false statements made to the media really amount to fake news? It seems reasonable to come to that conclusion. And what about everyone else's news articles and published statements online, whether they’re from people with authority or just unknown writers. Does passing on misleading information online also boil down to spreading fake news?

The Guilty

The thought of being guilty spreading fake news probably never occurred to the average person. In fact, unless given a reason to think otherwise, people generally don’t even consider the fact that they may be reading or listening to fake news. Regardless of where you get your source of news on a regular basis, do you typically question the validity of it? Probably not.

Think About it & Respond

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Intent Doesn't Matter

Not everyone who manages to spread fake news does so for nefarious reasons. Some people don’t even know that they’re doing it. They simply fail to check the accuracy of the information they’re providing. You may only view yourself as a simple blogger, occasional article writer, or just a typical social media enthusiast. If you only write or post about subjects that aren’t particularly weighty (no politics, social issues, finance matters, etc…), you may choose to do very little, if any research at all. Not everyone bothers to check the credibility of what they read or post online. We may come across something we read briefly and decide to quickly share it with others in a retweet or repeat post. Herein lies the potential danger. Remember. The originator of fake news is seeking to mislead people. If the misleading information is passed along, it still amounts to fake news, whether or not you realized it when you decided to spread it. It may not be news in the fullest sense. It may not even be news that you’re spreading, just details and facts about a particular subject, but the information is wrong or not entirely accurate.

The sad reality of things is that there is so much information available on the internet, readers must learn to be more vigilant, and screen the content being consumed. There is a definite need to pay close attention, not just to what we read, but where we read it at, and who wrote it. Are sources provided? If so, who are they? If not, why not? Even when doing casual browsing and reading random articles and content, it is still necessary to beware of material that may be spreading fake news. The time to especially be alert is when it involves health, money matters, and politics. Inaccurate online articles, reviews and testimonials can be detrimental to the reader. Just think about the potential consequences to readers if they rely on misleading information on these and other serious issues.

Some bloggers and freelance writers tend to write (and often vent), by simply touching on a topic of interest but not really providing any real depth about the subject. There are a lot of great websites to browse and read informative articles on news and all kinds of topics. Not all content providers require writers to cite references and sources. Whether articles are informative or light fluff pieces; citing sources may not be mandatory. This is especially true of opinion pieces. But while it is perfectly okay to want to provide your own personal take on a topic, it is equally important that you separate your own views from the actual facts. This should be done in such a way that your reader clearly understands where the line of demarcation is drawn.

BBC Story on "Fake News"

The Solution

The logical solution to fake news is to make sure that any facts used to support or substantiate your information (or viewpoint) are indisputable. One of the best ways to make certain of this is to always turn to reliable and reputable sources, preferably those with a history of credibility. In fact, comparing details obtained from multiple reliable sources will confirm whether or not you are truly dealing with the facts. This will strengthen the credibility of your own arguments, even if you’re only writing an opinion piece. Always remember that even editorials need to be rooted in fact. When writing for reputable content sites, keep in mind that more than just the gift of gab or a nose for news is required. Site owners expect content that is factual in nature, regardless of how the material is presented. Even when you personalize content that is unique, you should be able to include some type of reference source to help add to the story’s credibility.

Reputable Sources

Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson is a writer for the Channel NewsAsia website. He wrote “Commentary: An era of fake news, how the seeds of doubt are sown.” That is the article where the above quote about Donald Trump and the fake news phenomenon was quoted from. Channel NewsAsia has been around since March 1999 so they have a long history. This English-language Asian TV news channel was established by Mediacorp. Their reporting on global developments (particularly with an Asian perspective) is a way for them to provide the latest news to their readers, in addition to providing the stories behind the actual headlines. This site appears to have the history and credibility that makes for a good reference source. The same can be said for the other references mentioned in this article. The reliability of the sources you use all help the credibility of your article and posted statements. Providing links to sources of additional information will also help instill confidence in your existing and future content. Solid sources are a perfect solution for preventing the accidental spread of fake news.

Summary

  • To sum things up, "fake news" was first most notably mentioned in connected to the 2016 presidential election when false news stories were discovered due to investigative reporting by Craig Silverman.
  • The term has been repeatedly used by Donald Trump since January 2017 when he first applied it to CNN cable news reporting.
  • The definition indicates that fake news originates as information that is misleading, and has harmful intent, even if was spread unintentionally
  • While it is sometimes the result of failing to check the facts, in other instances fake news is the planned result of strategic lies.
  • Writers, bloggers and content providers should avoid being guilty (either knowingly or unknowingly) of spreading fake news.
  • The best way to avoid spreading fake news is to use multiple reputable sources in your writing, compare facts and details, and use links and quotes to attribute where details originate.

References

Wikipedia: Fake News

BBC News

Washington Post

Channel NewsAsia

Which news sources do you consult most for National & Global news?

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Which news source do you consider to be the most RELIABLE, in general?

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Comments

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    • CharmMatters profile image
      Author

      Charm Baker 2 weeks ago from Los Angeles

      You're so right Bill, and I have to admit, I've probably been guilty of it myself (in the earlier days), particularly as a very opinionated blogger. "I THINK" the key thing to remember is to make sure you take some type of steps to point out opinions and unsubstantiated claims from facts (provide simple disclaimers like I just did if necessary :-) Thanks for your comment Mr. Holland.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm a former history teacher and I gotta tell ya, it annoys the heck out of me, the opinions people have without doing any research at all. We need fact finding and informed opinions....so much more of that....so I am with you all the way on this one.

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