As we run smack into the heart of another election season, one of the least desirable effects of social media raises its ugly head. That is the proliferation of what is now known as fake news. What, then, can folks do to weed through this nonsense and figure out what to believe and what to ignore?
The initial electronic spread of fake news began back in the ’90s, when everyone finally got an email address. Purveyors of hoaxes and misinformation would forward emails containing suspect information to their friends, with a note at the end to forward to everyone you know. Some of these enablers intentionally forwarded the falsities, while others were mere patsies. A telltale sign of a suspect email was when the subject line contained numerous “re:” and especially “fw:” references, the result of friends forwarding to friends without vetting the content, much less editing it.
It was around this time that the granddaddy of fact-checking sites came into popularity. Snopes, at www.snopes.com initially was created to sort out urban legends and evolved into what some consider the premier fact-checking site today. With its success, others have tried to copy it, and still others have tried to shoot it down as some type of conspiracy.
Other popular fact-checking sites include PolitiFact at www.politifact.com and FactCheck.org. These sites, as well as most others, are accused by their naysayers of some type of political bias. The Media Bias/Fact Check (MBFC) site at mediabiasfactcheck.com provides a pretty good list of media and fact-check sites on the web today, along with a rating for such sites.
All of the fact-heck sites listed above are cited as “Least Biased” by MBFC. In the interest of full disclosure, MBFC rates the Honolulu Star-Advertiser as having a “Left Center Bias.” If you are looking for a site that leans your way, MBFC lists most of them, from Left to Right and in between. Along with biases, MBFC also lists those sites that provide questionable content, as well as pro-science and conspiracy-pseudoscience.
The point here is not to choose a site and completely believe everything it says. The akamai person will look at a couple of sites, leaning more than one way, before formulating an opinion or disseminating outright lies to his/her family and friends via social media.
Facebook didn’t make people stupid; it only allowed them to show the world that they are, in fact, less than intelligent. To be fair, not everything on Facebook is stupid. Many would be wise to follow the old adage, better to keep your mouth shut and let them think you’re an idiot than open your mouth and prove it.
Finally, a recent phenomenon we have seen is the curious inclusion of a link to a fact-check site that directly refutes the referenced content. There are two possible explanations for this type of event. The first is that the purveyor is trying to fool folks into believing that the fact-check site supports the false assertion. The gamble is that those who want to believe the untruth will merely see the link and assume it is supportive, without actually clicking the link.
The second explanation for this phenomenon is that the purveyor is simply not smart enough to realize that the fact-check link refutes the fabrication. Most would tend to believe that simplest explanation tends to be correct.
John Agsalud is an IT expert with more than 25 years of information technology experience. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.