“Fake News” and “Alternative Facts”

Lately, there has been a couple terms that have increasingly been used in political news.  These terms are “fake news” and “alternative facts.”  Like everything in politics, they have become abused and misused.

The term “fake news” has actually been around a while but its usage has seen a resurgence in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid.  The term hearkens back to the days of yellow journalism when reporters would completely fabricate events, interviews, and even people.  In today’s world, the term is used to describe the large number of websites that give the appearance of legitimate news networks.  Some even go as far as to imitate reputable news agencies.

The true purpose behind “fake news” is to spread misinformation and propaganda.  Often this so-called news is intended to tear down the support of a politician or a movement.  In the age of the Internet and specifically with Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, “fake news” can be spread broadly and delivered to a wide audience in a short amount of time.  This is a problem as it creates and reinforces a false narrative that is difficult to overcome even after the “fake news” has been revealed for what it is.

Unfortunately, along with this resurgence, the term has come to be misused as well.  After the election, “fake news” was one of the many scapegoats used by the Democrats to explain their losses.  Additionally, many people have taken to using the term to describe any news that does not reinforce their world view or supports a specific ideology.  On Twitter, President Donald Trump has used the term to describe news with which he disagrees.

The term “alternative facts” is a similar term.  It was coined by Kellyanne Conway to describe a number of debunked facts about Trump’s inauguration that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was forcefully claiming as true.  At this moment, the term is being used a pejorative to describe facts are are seemingly fabricated specifically when issued by the Trump administration.

In today’s age, we must be diligent about “fake news” and “alternative facts.”  There are a number of ways that we can safeguard ourselves from it.  One can find a number of articles that give very good advice on how to spot it (some of which are listed at the end of the article).  Here are a few tips.

  • If it is too good to be true, it probably is.  One of the ways that “fake news” works is to use our confirmation bias against us.  If you find yourself strongly agreeing with an article, use that as a sign that you need to delve deeper and double check the facts in it.
  • If it is a clickbait site, it is almost always “fake news.”  While some legitimate news agencies will split an article over two or three pages, a clickbait site will split its content over a half dozen or more pages and be heavily laden with advertisements.  Often, a clickbait site will feature the false information in the first couple of pages and the rest of the pages will not have anything to do with the story.
  • Look at the URL and name of the site.  Many “fake news” sites will use URLs and names that are deceptively similar to those of reputable news agencies.  If the site one that is outside of the United States (for example, “.co” and “.ru” at the end), it likely that it is fake.  If there is the name of a politician in the site’s name or URL, at best it is heavily biased but most likely fake.
  • Check out the background information on the site itself.  Some of these “fake news” sites actually tell you that they are fakes.
  • Check the comments of the article, often people will comment in the article letting others know that it is fake.
  • Read beyond the headline and first few paragraphs.  Most people do not read beyond the headline or first few paragraphs.  “Fake news” sites exploit this to their advantage by presenting a headline and few paragraphs of news that seems legitimate getting people to share. By reading beyond the first few paragraphs, the false story becomes obvious.
  • If it is a meme, it is misleading and most likely propaganda.  The only memes that are worth anything are the ones that are uplifting and funny.

Remember, the best defense against “fake news” and “alternative facts” is diligence and not sharing it.




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