Be honest: these days not a day goes by that at least one person you know doesn’t make a fool of themselves by forwarding completely BS news stories via Facebook, Twitter, or some other public forum. It’s not just that people are gullible (although that’s definitely part of it). No, the main problem is that journalism has gone to the dogs as information sharing has only gotten easier and faster. Fake news pops up more often than real news, so of course people are going to get caught in the tidal wave of stupidity. Cracked.com has had a series going strong for weeks now that is entirely about what idiotic stories fooled the world this week. It’s almost impossible not to be that fool ever now and then, because there are just so many opportunities!
So how can you take steps to make sure that you look like a fool less often than your friends and family? Here’s a couple of tips:
Before you get caught up in a story, check the source.
I could scarcely count the number of times that I’ve seen people get all worked up over a news story that was actually a self-admitted joke. A big example is anything published by “The Daily Currant“. The Currant, much like The Onion, is a joke website that presents itself as the “news”. It is completely satirical and tells you so all over its website, so there is no need to get worked up over anything they publish; it’s all fake and just for fun.
So tip number one is to be aware that sites like this one are commonplace, and you should check to make sure that what you’re looking at isn’t a joke before you get yourself all emotionally invested.
Even if the source looks good, consider that THEY may have been fooled.
One of the biggest problems with journalism these days is that it moves too fast. The Internet has made it possible for people on opposite sides of the planet to share information in the blink of an eye, so if reputable news sites want to keep up they have to cut out nasty little time-suckers…like fact-checking.
For big news companies it has become a much easier route to simply apologize later for getting something wrong than to be the only site not reporting the story because they’re busy trying to establish whether or not it’s for real. On an all-too-often basis huge, reputable companies such as The Huffington Post and the New York Times are publishing complete BS because from a business standpoint they can’t afford to allow their fact-checkers the time to confirm the story.
So keep this in mind: even the most reputable companies make mistakes, and these days they make them more and more often.
Remember that there are an AMAZING number of liars out there.
Let’s get one thing straight: the Internet is an amazing repository of information, but it is also an enormous, digital trash heep.
I could post an article on this blog tomorrow that claims that chewing gum gives you cancer. Most people would look at it and assume that I’d lost my mind, but if I made the post professional-looking enough, with “sources” and quotes from “doctors”, a few people would believe it, or at least consider that maybe it might actually be true. And because of the knee-jerk, zero-fact-checking reaction that we’ve already talked about, it just takes the right person to stumble across my false report and decide to gamble on it.
Any schmuck can make something up and post it on the internet, and there are many, many schmucks out there doing just that. So many so that it becomes outrageously difficult to discern the truth amongst the sea of crap, particularly for people who are focused on getting the newest, shiniest news out ASAP!
So, okay, let’s say that you’ve been smart. You made sure that the story is being reported by a real news company, that enough time has passed for fact-checkers to officially okay the story, and that the original source material for the story’s claims is reputable. The story therefore must be true, right? Think again.
Consider, just for a moment, that news companies LIE. Or perhaps not lie outright, but definitely twist the truth. No, I’m not a conspiracy theorist or anything. I just understand that the news is a business, just like any other, and they’re going to do whatever it takes to do what businesses care about most: make money.
Make no mistake, if Pepsi or Coke paid the news to say that cola cures cancer, they would find a way to twist the lie into a believable story. There might be about thirty degrees of separation between them, but if money is on the line they will find a way to link one cola ingredient to the stimulation of a certain set of cells in the body that are linked to some obscure theory that may possibly, someday, after LOADS more study and research, lead to some kind of new (untested and unproven) cancer treatment. And then they will take that tiny thread of a link and they will report it under the 72-pt font heading: “Suffering from Cancer? Drink More Cola!” Because that’s what businesses (and remember, the news companies are just business like any other) do: they find a way to make you have an emotional response that subsequently leads you to react exactly as they want you to.
What it all comes down to – what I’m encouraging you to do – is to be doubtful, and use your own brain. Don’t accept something as truth just because a friend shared it on Facebook, or it appeared on The Huffington Post’s website, or on the 5 o’clock news. Take a step back, think about what you’re reading or watching or being told, do the extra research if necessary, and make sure that you are confident about the reality of the story before you spread the flame further. It’s not easy to think critically all the time, especially with the vast quantity of information being thrown at us virtually non-stop, and we’re all bound to make mistakes from time to time. But if we’d all make just a little bit of an effort to do our own fact-checking, maybe we could slow down the tidal wave of misinformation and pure BS that is washing over the land and drowning us all.
You don’t want to drown in your own foolishness, right? Right.