Too good to be true
14 February 2017 - By Lonneke van de Ven, Master's student Corporate Communication: 'We are all able to publish things on the internet. But how do you know if a story is true?'
As part of the Master’s elective Public Relations, Media and Public, we visited the Volkskrant last week. Since the Volkskrant is one of the largest quality newspapers in the Netherlands, I was really excited to have a look at their editorial office. The company visit started with some general information about working at the Volkskrant, the competition of the online environment, and some remarkable changes for journalists. However, there was one aspect that really grabbed my attention!
Peter, a journalist of the Volkskrant who facilitated the company visit, told us about a real problem within the news field that is getting bigger and bigger: fake news. Nowadays, almost everybody can produce news. With the huge amount of social media accounts, news sites and other online platforms, we are all able to publish things on the internet. But how do you know if a story is true? Peter gave us an example of a recent scientific study in which researchers examined the advantages for women of eating chocolate while being pregnant. However, in the end no significant results were found. To promote their study though, the researchers distributed a press release titled: “The advantages of eating chocolate for pregnant women”. This attractive, but deceptive title caught the attention of many news sites. So, the next week not only social media sites, but also official news websites, such as Medical News Today, featured the study. It was even discussed on a breakfast journal on television. Ridiculous, right? Since there were no advantages for pregnant women at all!
I really cannot imagine that official news agencies do not check the information that they publish on their websites. Especially for them it is damaging to their reputation, I would think. But the thing is: how do we, readers, find out that such a story is not true? I don’t think we can. And that’s in my opinion the whole point about fake news and why this is actually such a big problem.
With this example, we can say that the credibility of news sources is in danger these days. When news agencies simply do not check the press releases they receive, things like this will happen. So what I definitely learned from this company visit: never fully trust what media report and always be critical! And a tip for later, when you might be writing articles yourself: get your information straight from the source. Only then can you be sure that you will not write nonsense.
Lonneke van de Ven (22) is currently enrolled in the Master’s programme in Communication Science (track Corporate Communication). Her expected year of graduation is 2017.