Can we talk?
I don’t know whether or not fake news influenced the election.
I don’t know…and I don’t care.
But what I do know is this: an incredible amount of otherwise intelligent-seeming people have started a trend on the internet: posting (and believing) news stories that are so obviously false, it injures everyone’s eyes to see. They’re doing it at a higher rate than ever. It’s gone from one fake story per week to several every day. It’s obnoxious. And more than that, it’s sad.
No, Conor McGregor didn’t retire due to some random scandal.
Will Smith didn’t assassinate Trump.
The President didn’t ban the Star Spangled Banner at all sporting events.
All the stay-at-home moms in Connecticut didn’t rake in $20,000 per week using some ‘weird trick.’
It’s getting exhausting. And embarrassing. And by embarrassing I don’t mean for the people and sites who post the fake drivel. Those people, classless as they are, are just trying to earn money. No, by embarrassing I’m talking about the people who believe in clickbait and fake news stories. The people who click on it. The people who share it and try to spread it as though it were gospel.
It feels like some of us are able to spot fake news at a glance, but others have no idea that they’re getting worked up by stories that aren’t even close to being true. People are gobbling this stuff up. And while it’s not as if lies and propaganda are new things, the existence of the internet changes the game. It means everyone is exposed. Always.
Facebook and other sites aren’t going to meaningfully crack down on fake stuff. See, Facebook gets paid to run these ads, and the content doesn’t appear to matter. For example, I sponsor business ads on Facebook and Twitter to promote my books, art, and other materials. But when I flip over to my personal page and glimpse the kinds of ads that appear, it isn’t cool, creative stuff I see. It isn’t interesting at all. It’s spam. It’s how some douchey guy made millions because of his non-existent genius. It’s how some celebrity died tragically (they didn’t) or some congressman murdered his dog (his dog is fine.) It’s fake news, usually some politically polarizing junk or straight up scammy garbage designed to get a click, spread a lie, and earn the offending website cash.
It kills me that people believe this stuff. It hurts my human sensibilities. How are we this dumb, this unable to see through super transparent BS? How is it people aren’t able to distinguish between satirical articles and maliciously fake trash? I think I secretly know the answer (some of us want the fake news articles to be true, particularly the political stuff) but I’m willing to reserve judgment.
No. Actually I’m not. I’m totally judging.
Here’s just a splash of recent fake news headlines people actually believed: (These are the actual headlines, some of which have 10,000 or more Facebook ‘shares.’)
“BREAKING: Hillary Clinton files for divorce.”
“Remember the voting days: Republicans vote on Tuesday, 11/8 and Democrats vote on Wednesday, 11/9!”
“Tens of Thousands of Scientists Declare Climate Change a HOAX!”
“President Obama Signs Executive Order Banning the Sale of Assault Weapons!”
“IT BEGINS: Watch Cops Drag Girl out of NC Bathroom for not Looking Like a Woman.”
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Presently, there’s an article out there listing 130 sites that either promote fake news or use misleading, clickbait-ish headlines. Whether or not every single site listed is actually fake or not isn’t important. What’s important is that from several of these sites, dozens or even hundreds of articles are poured into the internet every day. Misleading articles. Biased articles. Editorials masquerading as journalistic truth. Fake stuff that people you know have read and consumed as if it’s 100% factual.
Here’s what’s up:
You can’t rely on the internet to week out fake news.
It’s not going to stop. It’ll probably get worse before it gets better.
It’s on you to stop it, not Mark Zuckerberg.
There are several articles out there (here’s one) discussing methods of outsmarting fake news. They’re good articles in spirit, but ultimately they’re not simple enough. The kind of people who need to learn how to spot fake news aren’t going to read an ad-riddled, image-filled epic novel about the topic.
It’s really not that complicated.
It’s actually pretty easy.
To eliminate fake news from your consciousness, what you need to do is:
Stop getting your news from Facebook and Twitter. Just stop. Right now
Be automatically skeptical of anything (not just news) you read anywhere on the internet
If something is obviously inflammatory toward a public figure, assume it’s BS until proven otherwise
Especially when using social media, assume anything other than cat pictures and cute photos of your friends’ kids is fake
Being an honest, conscientious citizen in the modern world involves more than just basic knowledge of how to click through the internet. You need to step up your game and double down on your critical thinking skills. It isn’t being pessimistic or paranoid. It’s not cynicism. The skills you need to defeat fake news are skills you probably already possess.
Do your homework.
Trust your gut.
Seeing is believing.
I don’t know what else to say. While I’m aware there are plenty of people who either don’t care about fake news or actually think it’s cool to spread lies, I want to believe in my heart most of us want it to end. If that’s true, if that’s really true, people need to stop looking to others to solve the problem. Crushing this problem isn’t the internet’s problem. It’s not Facebook’s fault, nor Twitter’s.
It’s on YOU. 100% on YOU. Always has been. Always will be.
Go forth and click less. I’m counting on you, yes YOU, to never share another fake news headline again.
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I usually never write about this ^^^ kind of stuff. I write about this kind of stuff.
And stuff like this, too.
J Edward Neill