In a few weeks I am going to give a talk about fake news here at IU. More than anything this post is meant as a starting point for that talk.
When teaching, I often talk about validity of information. For example, when society relied exclusively on printed media (as opposed to mobile and computer content) it was incredibly difficult for fake stories to spread. Should the New York Times print some erroneous story it would be discovered in relatively short order and corrected. Fake news could not spread in a print dominated world because readers had time to actually think. For instance, the Bloomington Newspapers reported that an enemy aircraft carrier was spotted off the California coast two days after Pearl Harbor. This was false and quickly corrected. However, in our current environment of being able to share everything at every moment there is increasingly no time digest information.
When news breaks in 140 characters or less we start reacting instead of thinking. How many stories are shared on social media in which neither the poster or the commenter(s) have only read the headline? I cannot find reliable data on that, but am guessing that it is alarmingly high.
Fake news exists the way it does (at this moment in time) because current technology has made it possible. Unfortunately, no amount of technology will fix this issue. This is a cultural problem, one that was born out of anger and suspicion.
We should not be surprised that fake news has become an issue. The only surprise is that it has taken this long for it to be acknowledged.