Lets be clear, fake news and disinformation have always existed. However, the Internet has allowed it to spread at speeds and rate unseen in history. Espionage agencies, fringe political interests, hackers, and dark players the world over have learned how to weaponize the Internet with fake news to their ends. As consumers of news, it is our responsibility to be critical in thinking and not so easily accepting of news, especial if it plays to our biases. Thankfully, there exist news organizations that work harder than ever to fact-check their reports. On the other hand, there are organizations that claim to report news but in reality try hard to play to our biases which result in a distorted view of the world, at best.
The Internet is largely unchecked for facts or accuracy. Legitimate businesses self-govern the veracity of the content they put online. Social media are a hotbed for biased opinion, misinformation and fake news. As Mark Zuckerberg said recently, you can’t just remove content from social media because it is wrong. The individual who put it there may believe it is true and not intentionally post misleading information. Or they may know exactly what they are doing. Therein lies the problem, you can’t get into the head of every social media user and thus can’t judge intent. So what are we left to do?
We have to use common sense. Unfortunately, we can’t trust people on social media that we don’t know and have never met. We need to differentiate between news reports and news commentary. We cannot rely on just one or two sources of information. Look at reports from a scope of news outlets so as to get the most balanced and widest picture possible. Confirm, confirm, confirm. Never never never trust a report on social media unless it is confirmed by another trusted source. This takes effort, time, and mental exertion. Unfortunately for many people the easiest thing to do is listen to their favorite outlet and accept whatever feeds their biases. As long as that is the case, we will have to contend with fake news and disinformation.
There may be a silver lining in this for traditional news outlets. This situation may actually usher in a resurgence of print news. Maybe not back to like it was in the past, but to some extent. It is easier to differentiate fake from real when it is in print. It is obvious to everyone that tabloid papers are not read for the news but for the outlandish headlines and stories. It is much more expensive and difficult to put news in print than put it online, so it is out of reach of most individuals that want to create a fake story. Print news has a long tradition and respectability that the Internet does not. So you are safer (not safest) to trust it if it is in print than online. You still need to use critical thinking. And this is not to say that there aren’t many trustworthy sites online as well, this one included, hint, hint. 😉