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Column: Fake news has evolved and localized, three warning signs


“The plague of “fake news” that has emerged on a national level is now infecting the local dialogue”

By Andrew Harris, originally appearing in our weekly newsletter on Sunday March 17

I’m living proof that anyone can very easily start a website and call it news. It does take some time and investment, knowing social media and the ability to light a few fires.

When the Wellsville Sun started, it was fortunate to have the help of several veteran journalists, employed a local web design/hosting service, and a very good lawyer with experience with journalism and publishing. This team is still in place and has grown into columnists, photographers, editors, journalists, and contributors. It’s not just one guy behind a keyboard looking for attention.

We also have some amazing partners with whom we provide digital marketing services. We advertise their brands, services, products, people, and promotions. These businesses have placed a certain degree of trust in the Sun, trusting that our work has integrity and is accountable to the larger community. Take trust, integrity, and accountability out of the equation and our product is worthless, perhaps even harmful to the community.

Our goal has always been to become as legitimate as the Wellsville Daily Reporter. which we all miss dearly. Considering key team members like Oak Duke and John Anderson are both a very big part of the Sun, I think we have been able to provide a ‘daily’ which has many elements of the now defunct Daily Reporter. The Wellsville Sun is part of a network, with roles and responsibilities similar to when Oak Duke was publisher and John Anderson was editor.

Not only does the Sun provide daily community news, we also provide a platform for those who wish to be published. Great writers like Bob Confer grace our “pages” regularly because he believes in our work and the mission of redefining local news. Also featured almost weekly are a cast of writers like Multi-national sports columnist of the year Chuck Pollock, Fred Sinclair, Bob Lonsberry, Chuck Wiser, State Senator Tom O’Mara, Oak Duke, John Anderson, and Congressman Nick Langworthy wrote an op-ed this week. We also support Chris Brooks with his site and run his stories and photo galleries daily during the high school seasons.

Sadly, at least in the Wellsville community, the plague of ‘fake news’ that has emerged on a national level is infecting the local dialogue. Anyone can pay $29.95 to start up a ‘news service.’ The first amendment of our constitution protects the right to pursue this freedom of speech. But that doesn’t make it news, or truth, or beneficial to the community.

In fact, the ability for anyone to masquerade as a news has dangerous implications. With a few clicks, anyone can sow seeds of malice which quickly grow into a family crisis. Recently, disinformation in our community has caused suicide worries involving teenagers, malignment of first responders, and distrust of our core institutions.

Warning Signs of fake local news:

1) The purpose of the “news” is obviously a personal or corporate interest

2) No advertisers, no partners, no contributors, no news

3) A lack real people or bylines

This is America, the disgruntled and disenfranchised have the constitutional right to produce dramatic misrepresentations to support a private agenda. It is incumbent on the consumer of information to be educated enough to distinguish between community news put forth in good faith and fake news put forth with malice. This isn’t always easy and the problem is going to get worse as artificial intelligence becomes a tool for the disruption. Here is a recent article from Virginia Tech on how to spot fake news, especially that produced by artificial intelligence.

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