This week The Listening Post ‘s Tariq Nafi takes a look at a kind of journalism that is a close cousin of
“fake news” – the sort of reporting that tells people what they want to hear, as opposed to what they
need to know; reporting that reinforces partisan opinions rather than challenging them.
As a recent Buzzfeed investigation revealed, it’s the kind of output that a Miami-based company called
American News LLC specialises in.
It does so not for ideological reasons, but for commercial ones. So it often covers the same story two different ways, sending a liberal, lefty version of it into one side of the blogosphere, while conservatives get a different take, dotted with right-wing arguments and buzzwords that push their buttons.
In the absence of vetted and contextualised and solid news information, people are just going to go for fake news, if it looks plausible enough, because that is human nature.
Sometimes it isn’t just ideologically filtered, it’s also flat-out fake.
Companies like American News LLC get plenty of clicks because, according to one study, it takes just a few believers to set off a news item on the social web.
Consumers are often much less concerned about the outlet doing the actual reporting and where the story originated than they are about who shares it – whose Facebook feed you find it on, whose tweet takes you to the article, or which friend sends it your way.
But how easy is it for American News LLC to exploit our biases?
“They use the same exact stories and the same exact formulas for the right and the left. It’s very low effort and high output; so they don’t really need to tweak that much of anything, except putting in the names of people that they know will get them to click,” says Brooke Binkowski, managing editor and freelance journalist at Snopes.
LP contacted American News LLC to ask them about their editorial and business model, but received no response to our emails.
The growth of the partisan news landscape has been decades in the making, driven by the commercialisation of journalism, the deepening of political divides, and the polarisation of large segments of the population.
In the United States, before the internet and the social web turbocharged the spread of partisan outlets online, there was talk radio, dominated by strident conservative hosts and Fox News, which emerged as the televised voice of the Republican Party, later followed by MSNBC on the left.
Over the last quarter century, as the internet has offered platforms to anyone with a point of view, there has been an explosion of partisan media.
“I did a study for Axios in which I observed 89 news websites that have launched over the past 25 years, and what I found is there have been very few non-partisan websites that have launched,” says Sara Fischer, a media reporter with Axios.
News consumers are partly to blame.
“In the absence of vetted and contextualised and solid news information, people are just going to go for fake news if it looks plausible enough, because that is human nature,” offers Binkowski.
Multiple studies have concluded we have an appetite for content that feeds our biases and an aversion to material that doesn’t.
“There’s a natural tendency for people to like stories that already agree with their point of view,” says
Matthew Levendusky, associate professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania.
Craig Silverman, media editor, Buzzfeed
Sara Fischer, media reporter, Axios
Brooke Binkowski, managing editor and freelance journalist, Snopes
Matthew Levendusky, associate professor of political science, University of Pennsylvania
Source: Al Jazeera