Amol Rajan is the BBC's media editor. That means he writes about what is happening in the media around the world.
Dear Burnet News Club members,
Thank you so much for your very flattering invitation to participate in your study. I like clubs. I’m a clubbable guy. And I also really believe in the importance of journalism. That’s why I’m happy to be part of your club’s thinking.
Let me try to answer your questions, taking each one in turn.
Does fake news always affect peoples’ thoughts and beliefs?
From: BNC Fan1000 | North Beckton
It doesn’t have to, but it very often does, and I wish it didn’t. I think it would be worth noting the difference between thoughts and beliefs. We all have loads of thoughts, each time some signal flickers in our mind; but we have fewer beliefs. Beliefs are attitudes to, and stances on, the world. I think a good test of the impact of fake news is whether it guides beliefs, thoughts - or both. So if I see a fake news story saying ‘The Pope endorses Donald Trump’, the
So if I see a fake news story saying ‘The Pope endorses Donald Trump’, the thought that the Pope might endorse Trump for President would enter my mind, but by applying common sense and scepticism, I would never hold the belief that the Pope did, in fact, endorse Trump for President.
So fake news does always affect the thoughts of those who see it, but it doesn’t have to inform their beliefs. The key thing is to apply scepticism – in other words, to ask the question, can this really be true?
Can people with power stop fake news?
From: BxChrono | Malcolm Arnold Academy
Yes, they can if they want to; but the worry is that they won’t because they don’t need to.
I think there are three groups of people who can stop fake news.
- First, governments. In Germany, they are drafting laws to stop the spread of fake news, but they have a very different attitude to the media to, say, America. In America, Donald Trump probably won’t try to stop fake news, because he often benefits from it, and because they believe so strongly in freedom of speech.
- Second, technology companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter. They control the algorithms that spread fake news. Alas, they often make money from fake news, so they may not be all that motivated to act.
- Third, us – the readers. We are more powerful than you might think, because ultimately it is our demand for information that causes fake news to spread. So if we are smarter about reading and sharing fake news – that is, if we stop doing that – then we are more likely to prevent others reading fake news, and being influenced by it.
"False news is just news which contains errors of fact, and misplaced emphasis – of the kind that you can see in British tabloids every single day.
Fake news is deliberate information designed to go viral, which is usually created by people who have a political or financial motive."
Amol Rajan, BBC Media Editor
How do journalists know if all the information that they find is true?
From: Minnie2395 | Grace Academy Coventry
There is only one way to find out. Check! Checking means searching for evidence, speaking to lots of people, and putting in the time to make sure you’ve got all the facts– and a proper understanding of the story. All this takes time, which can be difficult when you are on a tight deadline; but there is no substitute for it. And, reassuringly, it requires skills and judgement that no robots will ever be able to master.
What happens if we think that true news is fake news?
From: Lilyose | St Peter’s Primary School
I think it is worth explaining the difference between false news and fake news. False news is just news which contains errors of fact, and misplaced emphasis – of the kind that you can see in British tabloids every single day. Fake news is deliberate information designed to go viral, which is usually created by people who have a political or financial motive.
If you have a suspicion that the facts in some story are wrong, it doesn’t make it fake news. It could be false news, where the journalist has simply got some key facts wrong. Try reading a tabloid newspaper tomorrow and you’ll see plenty of examples of this.
If you have a suspicion that the facts in some story are wrong, but they have been deliberately inserted to spread misinformation, then you should try to work out not just where it is coming from but what it is saying. If it is fake news, usually you’ll find that it’s someone with a very particular agenda. You should feel free, once you’ve gathered all the relevant information, to describe fake news as just that – but only if you’re sure!
Why does fake news get more attention than real news?
From: North Beckton
I think – and hope! – that it doesn’t. It’s very important to remember that fake news is a tiny part of the whole news system.
Sure, there have been some high-profile cases. Fake news usually spikes during election periods, and especially when the results are tight; but it’s only a small part of what viewers, listeners and readers are exposed to, thank goodness.