Fake News…. Are We Unwilling Accomplices?

We’ve all heard President Trump decry the fake news industry time and time again. It’s been discussed on the left and the right and used so frequently by the President that we take it for granted and in some cases treat it like the boy who cries wolf. However, regardless of the President’s views there is no doubt that we have an issue with the truthfulness of what we read and hear online.

There are many polls floating around that discuss the public’s skepticism on the reliability of information we receive on a daily basis from social media and other online sources.

I’ve looked at many of them. While their methodologies may be different and the statistics they arrive at mixed−they all trend in the same direction.

We get a lot of fake news thrown at us!

One Pew Poll stated that Americans believe that fake news is a bigger problem than racism, terrorism or climate change.

(Pew Research)

Couple that with the extraordinary amount of time we spend online and, well, it’s a bit messy.

So, you ask yourself, I know it’s fake, what’s the big deal?

It’s a very big deal and here’s why:

  • Fake news is not limited to the political domain. Businesses have suffered financial damage and damage to their reputations from fake stories planted online.
  • Fake news has ruined people’s reputations.
  • Fake news has negatively infected our political discourse whether its fake news from the right or left.
  • Fake news has caused stressful political divides among family and friends.
  • Fake news has incited people to protest and even riot.
  • Fake news and online bullying have led to a number of suicides.
  • Fake news undermines the truth, burying the important information that we need to know. Even stories that are well researched, sourced and thoroughly fact checked are now suspect.

And the list goes on…

I am not going to take up your valuable time providing specific examples with citations. You’ve seen it yourself. What I just told you isn’t new news−or at least it shouldn’t be. But I wanted to provide this preamble to get to the point of this article.

Don’t become an unwilling accomplice to the fake news industry!

The fake news industry is alive and well, on both sides particularly in the political realm. It’s highly effective and we have all fallen victim and even unwilling accomplices in promoting it. The fake newsies, as I refer to them, engage in a campaign of purposely sending out inflammatory content guaranteed to get you fired up!

They want you to reply, forward, comment, share and like (even an innocent “like” helps to validate the message) all of which helps to keep the fake story alive. This is what they want.

Don’t give it to them.

Many of the fake newsies have become very good at pretending to be a legitimate source. Their messages are formatted like real news stories and they may even have graphics, videos and even citations. It’s becoming more difficult to discern the authenticity of these stories.

I’ve fallen victim to forwarding information that turned out to be wrong and four years old, still circulating on the internet. (talk about getting mileage out of a fake story) I have fallen victim to commenting, forwarding, sharing and hitting the like button for stories I had no idea were actually true.

But the important takeaway is this:

I didn’t have to respond at all. And neither do you.

The fake news industry counts on you to be one of their soldiers.

But if you decide to get involved take a moment to defuse. We are all guilty of firing off a response when we’re red hot−only to regret it.

Here are some questions that you might want to ask yourself to avoid promoting fake news:

Do I need to get in the middle of this?

Do I need to fire off a reply, hit the like button, give it a thumbs up, forward the message, share the message, send it to other social sites−because if I don’t, it will affect me personally? If you’re truthful in your answer−it will likely be a resounding no! Almost nothing in your daily life requires that you respond to any of these stories. More than likely there are no big decisions in your life that depend upon you jumping in. It’s a choice, so choose wisely.

How many times has the message been forwarded?

If it’s been forwarded so many times you can’t determine where it came from or when, or who the author is−it may be something that’s been out there for a long time with outdated or bad information.

Who is The Author?

Does he or she have a platform? Do you know anything about them? Do they have an agenda? Are they known and respected or are they just sitting in their underwear in their parent’s basement firing off fake stories? (don’t laugh it happens)

Have I checked my bias at the door?

This is a tough one. It’s very easy to spread a story whose content you agree with. We tend not to scrutinize these very well. Try and be careful.

What’s the URL address?

Does it have a .com or .org at the end, or is it some funky URL that you’ve never seen before.

Have I looked at the graphics and videos carefully?

Only the very skilled can fake these perfectly. Amateurish videos can be easily spotted.

Are there any misspellings?

This is a possible giveaway. (ugh, I hope I don’t have any in this article)

Am I using my common sense?

If it looks outrageous and inflammatory− it’s probably fake news.

I’ve outlined a few things you can do; I am sure there are others. But from a practical standpoint, do we have the time to employ all of these investigative measures every time we look at a message? No, we don’t. But if you use only one or two of them it can be very helpful. And, if all else fails, resort to my first suggestion:

Do I need to respond at all?

The fake newsies think they are helping their cause by putting out fake stories. They are not. In fact, they are hurting their credibility making anything they say suspect. Fake news stories further entrench people in their camps, making them unwilling to believe or listen to anything the other side has to say.

It’s ironic, that we now have more information available at our fingertips than at any other time in our history. Yet, finding the truth is now more difficult than at any other time in our history.

Remember, just because something is viral doesn’t make it true. If we use common sense and employ some practical measures, we can save ourselves and the next guy down the road a lot of grief −and help to shut down the fake news industry. So, take a moment before you comment, hit the like button, reply, forward or share. You don’t get any prizes for speed.

That’s my take. What’s yours?

 


Stephen Phillip Monteiro is a law enforcement, security and intelligence consultant. He’s held senior leadership positions with consulting firms in Washington, DC and is a retired Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service. Visit his website: www.thegoodamerica.com to leave your comments.

 

Politics is killing us…Literally

In 1972, I cast my first ballot in a presidential election from a remote duty station in Iceland. I was a Cryptologist in the Navy. I was 18 years old, defending my country and excited to vote for the first time in my life. It was my civic duty and an obligation I proudly embraced. I took the matter seriously. I gathered what information I could, watched and listened to the candidates, thought things through, made my choice and voted. The process, and the entire election for that matter was not stressful to me. I had no anxiety or sleepless nights. I was engaged but not consumed. And, I didn’t argue with a single soul.

Fast forward to today−things could not be more different and not in a good way. Politics is consuming us and it’s killing us literally!

Every day we are bombarded with political rhetoric on scale not seen in our country’s history. Every news show, talk show, late night show, award ceremony and day time show (not including the actual political programs) is infected with it. And, the unfortunate reality regarding the voluminous amount of information thrown at us−is the undeniable fact that a great deal of it is not even true.

It’s no wonder that we are stressed.

Politics has always been a dirty game. From the stories of Tammany Hall in New York City, to the shady politics of the Windy City, to old man Joe Kennedy sending boat loads of cash down south to buy votes−there has always been corruption associated with seeking” higher” office. The problem we face today is that we are being sucked right in along with them.

We’ve all heard the stories−lifelong friends disassociating from each other because of their political views. Across the country, people are being verbally and physically assaulted. We have witnessed paying customers being denied services because of the hat or the uniform they’re wearing. We just don’t have political opinions anymore−we’ve become political operatives. One outrageous case brought to mind, was that of a woman who refused to allow her children to visit their grandparents because they supported President Trump. This is insanity on steroids. To deny your children one of the most important bonds of their lives over politics is maddening. People have split from their friends and family, wasted countless hours of their lives responding to posts and blogs−and caused themselves a great deal of stress over a politician they have never met! Ponder that for a moment.

It’s crazy to me that we have allowed these “temporary gatekeepers of the government’s business” to infect our daily lives. Our government has problems but our country is strong. I see these as two separate entities. Our country is made up of guiding principles. The principles of fairness, justice, humility and compassion make up the backbone of America. It’s our duty as citizens to try as best we can to live by them. Regarding our government, well, it’s made up of people who come and go (eventually).

But despite the bleak picture that faces us, we have the power to stop the craziness. We can’t control what others do but we can control what we do. This blog is dedicated to finding ways to cope. Michigan Health has recommended 5 ways to reduce politically induced stress. I guess they coined a new ailment. You can spell out the acronym for the ailment yourself.

Below is a summary:

  • Beware of how much time you spend on social media
  • Be mindful of your surroundings when discussing politics (this one I have a problem with)
  • Be open to other points of view
  • Step away from hot conversations
  • Self-assess your interest (is engaging in politics good for you)

So, for right now, take a break and take a walk. Don’t worry, it will still be here when you return. Go and clear your mind and as my son always tells me−chill Dad, just chill..

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts and perhaps some discussion on how we got here.

About me….

As promised, a little bit about myself. My name is Stephen Phillip Monteiro. I am an independent security, law enforcement and intelligence consultant. I recently retired as a Senior Vice President of a government consulting firm and before that spent over 20 years as a Special Agent with the United States Secret Service. I retired in 2005 as the Special Agent in Charge of the Forensic Services Division and then embarked on my second career−providing consultation to the Department of Homeland Security and to the Department of Justice. Before that I was a detective with the City of Concord, NH and before all that a proud member of the United States Navy. I’ve traveled extensively throughout the U.S. and throughout the world, conducting criminal investigations and providing protection to four U.S. Presidents. I have a BS in Public Administration from Franklin Pierce University and an MSc in Management from the Johns Hopkins University.  I married a wonderful woman named Carmela and have two awesome sons, Ryan and Jared. Its been a year of firsts for me. I recently welcomed by first grandchild Evie and have another on the way! I also just finished my first manuscript. A memoir entitled, The Gray Bird of Baghdad.  More about that later….

Welcome!

Welcome to my new blog “Keep your Head on Straight.” Are you tired of all the negative news that consumes us 24/7?  Are you tired of the constant politics? Are you tired of all the divisiveness that seems to define us these days? Are you tired of hearing what’s wrong with America?  I sure am. But alas, have no fear. Through this blog, I want to talk about ways to bring us together and find peace in these trying times. I’d like to think of this blog as a self-improvement forum for your mind. Let’s get rid of the needless stress brought on by what we read about, listen to and watch on a daily basis that is bringing us down and focus on “The Good in America.”  I’m new to blogging so there is a lot to learn but I’m looking forward to an uplifting exchange of ideas and suggestions on how we can deal with all of this turmoil!  Later, I will tell you a little about myself.  Till then…