In a world of doctored videos, Russian trolls, phony websites, powerful algorithms and unrelenting bots, discerning truth from fiction has become increasingly difficult – with serious consequences.
- In October 2020 the FBI took down a Kremlin-backed group for paying American writers to publish articles slamming Joe Biden, praising President Trump and criticizing Black Lives Matter on a faux conservative news site.
- The Washington Post has documented more than 20,000 false or misleading statements made by President Trump during his time in office.
- Americans are bombarded with an endless loop of false and misleading narratives online.
- New information platforms are finding more ways to feed on people’s need to hear only news they already agree with.
- Truth and facts are being drowned out, replaced by disinformation spread by humans and online bots.
Welcome to the world of Fake News.
But fake news Isn’t new, is it?
No, but what is new is how easy it is to share disinformation on a massive scale. As a result, even the most extreme conspiracy theories can thrive in today’s fake news ecosystem. Case in point: QAnon. In case you’ve been in hibernation since 2018, QAnon is a baseless far-right conspiracy theory that asserts that that celebrities, politicians and other public figures are Satan-worshipping cannibalistic pedophiles. Oh yeah, and that President Trump has somehow been put in place to defeat this supposed cabal. Yikes.
It’s not only the crazy fringe stuff we have to worry about.
For many Americans, fake news, hate speech and disinformation on the internet are their primary sources of news. Much of the general public can’t distinguish truth from fact or news from propaganda and that is affecting well, everything– from how we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe during the pandemic to who we elect to protect us.
Yes, Fake news kills.
Sadly, many Americans are willing to overlook significant moral and ethical offences to ensure that power remains in control of the party they feel advances their politics and policies.
Facts and truth are the first casualties of authoritarians.
Authoritarianism is on the rise around the world and truth is under attack. Hundreds of journalists are in jail in nations such as Turkey, Hungary, China and the Philippines. Think it can’t happen here? Try telling yourself that the next time you hear a rally cry of “lock her up” or claims that the media are the “enemy of the people.”
Which brings us to the upcoming election…
Will the losing side believe the results? Will the majority of Americans recognize the legitimacy of the new president? Can there even be a peaceful transfer of power– one of the bedrocks of our democracy?
Yes, truth matters. Now more than ever before. Because without reverence for truth and respect for facts our democracy will not– cannot survive.
So How Do We Avoid Being Pawns of Fake News?
None of us are completely bias free, but fake news differs from bias in that it is specifically untrue. And fake news often includes politically charged or highly emotional labels, adjectives and verbs. It’s up to each of us to learn how to separate real news from fake news. Here are some basic tips:
- Break out of your information bubble. Seek out news from a variety of sources and from all sides of the political spectrum. Don’t rely on your Facebook or other social media venues for your news.
- Develop a critical mindset. Much of fake news is written to create an emotional, instinctive reaction such as fear or outrage. Ask yourself; why is this trying to trigger my emotions?
- Study the source of photos and emotionally charged statements on your news feeds. Is the information being shared by a reputable news source or is it not sourced? If the information is not sourced, it cannot be relied upon as true.
- See who else is reporting the story. Professional global news agencies such as Reuters, BBC and CNN have rigorous editorial guidelines.
- Fact check. Fact check. Fact check. There are a number of good nonpartisan, nonprofit fact-checking organizations that verify information. Try FactCheck.Org or FactChecker.Org.
- Use your common sense. If it sounds like a crackpot conspiracy theory, it probably is. And if you have young kids and teenagers under your roof, you might take a look at where they’re getting their information too.
- Report Fake News. If you see something that looks suspicious, it probably is. On Facebook you can tap the three dots at the top of the post. Then click on “find support or report post.” From there you can report the post as false news.
Bottom line – Truth matters now more than ever. So does your vote.
So please, do your research before you vote and make your decision about our futures wisely.