And what if it’s not actually about making money, it’s really not harmful that you read a story about Justin Bieber moving to Kingston, if Justin Bieber’s not actually moving to Kingston. Again it’s a time suck but doesn’t really matter.
But what if it’s about religion or it’s about ideology or it’s there to influence politics that’s the danger. So my first piece of advice to you is that if you wish to avoid the purveyors of fake news who live in dark alleys stay out of the dark alleys. Trust and support traditional journalism which is devoted to research and fact-checking and in-depth investigation of issues, the very journalism that is under attack right now.
It’s under attack because it doesn’t do everything you wanted it to do but it’s still there and you should actually try and rely on it. You want a fact check and fact-checking is becoming easier and easier now because these fact-checking sites abound.
But how do you actually fight this kind of nonsense? How do you fight the journalism that’s out there? Well you start by supporting these journalistic organizations and you start by using these fact-checking sites. If the New York Times and CNN tell you they both take checking deaths out very seriously and they both do it independently. If they tell you George Michael’s dead, George Michael is probably actually dead. If Donald Trump says his inauguration crowds were bigger than Barack Obama’s inauguration crowds, check the methodology that he’s citing and check the methodology of those who are saying otherwise. It’s actually relatively easy to do, sometimes it’s just your eyeballs that you need.
But the fact is there are fact-checking sites out there and remember that fake news purveyors count on the fact that you are abjectly lazy and you are much more likely to repost salacious news than to actually check the veracity of real news. Check it. It’s not hard to do. You can get out there and find out what’s going on.
I’m not saying that you have to trust everything that mainstream media tells you but I would give it more weight than I would give to an unverified source.
The other thing you should do is don’t spread fake news. Fake news grows exponentially because you share it, either because it validates your beliefs or because you don’t know it’s fake news. So check it, don’t spread it, hold those of your friends who do spread it to account. Make sure they don’t do that. There’s some salacious fantastic stuff on the internet and as much as you’d like to believe it if it turns out not to be true it’s on you.
And in a world where your reputation is determined on social media in many cases, if you become known as someone who like your crazy uncle who forwards these email strings that make no sense people will stop trusting you. They just won’t trust the information, it becomes the boy who cried wolf.
Look, journalism is a serious business. You have to understand how to consume it. You have to cross-reference it but you have to trust certain things. Everywhere I have worked has had a methodology for checking otherwise uncorroborated information. It varies from organization to organization but typically you need two independent sources who can tell you the same thing or at least one source that is very highly placed. And if you don’t do that, if you don’t do it that way you could get fired. Is the source that you’re reading as rigorous as that?
Look journalism is getting better. Crowdsourcing is out there. Facebook is using member reporting as well as algorithms to try and weed out fake news. Wikipedia is getting better by the day and the hunger is out there for good quality journalism.
Remember what journalism is meant to do. It has two purposes. The first one is to bear witness to simply be there to say that something is happening.
But the second one is more important. It’s to hold power to account and together let’s not go down a road where we end up in a world where not only are we not speaking truth to power but we’re not even able to discern the truth.