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.