by Larry Johnson
It’s more than 30 years ago when Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said: “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”
Less than half of Americans read the newspaper, while more than two-thirds subscribe to Facebook. Social media like Twitter and Facebook, message boards and other forms of Internet chatter are far from credible sources of information, yet they are increasingly what more and more Americans rely on for forming their personal opinions and making decisions.
As we scramble to assign blame for the proliferation of fake news — the Russians, the Chinese or some group of desperately biased partisan politicians — let us pause and ask ourselves the question: Why do we so readily believe them? Why don’t we check out the facts? Do we even know where to find the facts?
Let’s begin with what fake news is. It is not just someone’s strong personal opinion. It is false information, implied or deliberately created to mislead, confuse or contradict the truth.
Why are we so susceptible to fake news? First of all, we have become accustomed to, even dependent on, instant news. We want information quickly, concisely. We don’t have time to research it. So we turn to social media and the Internet. What do you want to know? Google it.
In an article titled “The Science of Fake News,” published in the March 9, 2018 scholarly newsletter “Science,” Northeastern University professor David M.J. Lazer, and his associates write: “Fake news is not news you disagree with. In fact, it is not news at all. Fake news is fabricated information that mimics news media content in form but not in organizational process or intent. Fake-news outlets, in turn, lack the news media’s editorial norms and processes for ensuring the accuracy and credibility of information. Fake news overlaps with other information disorders, such as misinformation (false or misleading information) and disinformation (false information that is purposely spread to deceive people).”
So, what can we do about fake news? The first step is to learn to recognize fake news sources. Be curious and actively investigate any suspicious news story. Rely on news sources that are accountable for their content and that follow journalistic ethics and standards. Don’t rush to share news stories with others on social media which you have not verified. Pause and reflect on any news stories that arouse strong emotions, positive or negative. Be aware of your own biases and compensate for them.
The greatest offenders in the dissemination of fake news, according to author David Masciotra, are not the Russians or social media company executives “but the American education system and parents content with raising children who know little about their country, much less about the rest of the world.” Only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of government. Only 9 states require civics as a part of their high-school curriculum. And only seven of the nation’s top 25 liberal arts colleges require their history majors to take a course in U.S. history.
Many Americans are misinforming themselves about critically important national issues by relying on unreliable or deliberately inaccurate information sources. We want someone smarter than us to tell us what to think, what to say, who to vote for. We are incredibly naive, easily swayed by strong-looking, self-assured, plain-speaking media moguls and politicians.
No matter how often or how loudly an untruth is spoken or written, it is still an untruth. And labeling the truth as fake news does not make it so.
- Fake News
by Larry Johnson