Tag Archives: fake news; Russia; election hacking; Facebook quizzes

Be the Change #3: Fake news

zzbethechangeThere’s a lot of hand-wringing on the Left since the election about how the Democrats lost so many working and middle class white voters.  There’s probably plenty of blame to go around, but it’s becoming clearer and clearer that fake news played a role.

Fake news appears almost exclusively on social media.  It may have a tag line like “BREAKING NEWS” and the teaser headline is almost always shocking or inflammatory.  The actual “news” reported almost always turns out to be false or, at best, a distortion of the truth.

The Washington Post reports in this article that Russia put a lot of effort into planting fake news on American social media in the run-up to the election, almost all of it aimed at seeding doubt about Hillary Clinton in particular and our democratic process in general.

Even Facebook quizzes have a hidden agenda.  This article from the New York Times describes how your quiz answers are recorded, shared, and used to placed ads in your Facebook feed, not just for products that someone wants to sell you, but for political ads as well, tailored exactly to the kind of person they conclude from your answers that you are.  In other words, to manipulate you.

How can you tell the difference between actual news and propaganda?  Here are the criteria that I use:

  1. Does the news source present balance? Every news source has an editorial slant, but responsible news sources present facts that both support and cast doubt on their own position. Even their editorial pages will contain some dissenting commentary.
  2. Is this news source respected? Have they won awards for their journalism?  Are they quoted by other reputable news sources?  Has their reporting generally been proven accurate in the past?
  3. Is this news source editorially independent, or is it run by someone with an agenda?
  4. Are the same basic facts being reported elsewhere? Is detail provided?  If what you are reading has not been reported anywhere else and the detail is vague or lacking, what you are reading is probably not true.
  5. Is the language measured and reasonable, or is the tone frenzied, nasty and reductionist? Watch out for name-calling, ad hominem attacks, and for any language that makes you feel panicky, ESPECIALLY IF IT CONFIRMS YOUR BIASES AND HITS YOUR BUTTONS.  You are almost surely being manipulated by propaganda
  6. And, finally, stop and think: does this make sense?

Please be aware of where your news is coming from, particularly if you’re getting it from social media.  I get most of my news from NPR, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette or the New York Times.  I try to avoid clicking into news articles on Facebook.  When I make an exception, I always double-check the factual basis for what I read.  Some good fact-checking sources are Snopes, Politifact and Factcheck.  Politifact and Factcheck are also great for checking the accuracy of claims made by candidates and office-holders.

And here is a list of fake news sites.  This may not be comprehensive.  Doubt everything that is pushed to you on social media, even by friends!  Double check everything!  When your friends push fake news to you, help them become more alert to the dangers of propaganda by sending a Reply with a link to Snopes, Politifact or Factcheck.