The War on Fake News
I’ve had a number of dreams recently that highlight some of the issues surrounding the debate over “fake news.” For those who aren’t familiar with it, fake news is a term being used to describe news stories which are patently false or misleading. Fake news is a real problem. Most of us fall prey to it once in a while. The debate is over what news sources should be labeled as “fake” and what should be done to minimize the damage caused by it.
The Internet is full of websites that publish made-up stories with shocking headlines that dare readers to click on them. Unscrupulous people set up these websites to earn money from advertisers. This is fake news in its truest sense and there’s a simple reason for its proliferation
We all have biases or strongly held beliefs. We tend to look for news stories that support what we already believe. The stronger our bias, the more likely we are to believe false news stories and the more likely we are to reject ones that refute what we believe.
It was political bias that prevented Democrats from listening to warnings that Hillary’s win was not guaranteed in this year’s election. And it’s the same type of bias that causes conservatives to share fake news stories about President Obama. A bias which puts millions of dollars into the pockets of the scammers who set up fake news websites. Bias destroys our objectivity. It causes us to believe and spread lies.
Fake News Dreams
One of the dreams I had about fake news revealed how news may be disseminated in the future. In the dream, a group of people who wanted to control society developed a way to distinguish “official” news sources from “unofficial” ones.
Those who were in control embedded a microscopic bit of data into “official” news articles. It was impossible to tell the micro-data was there without the aid of a special device. The presence of the micro-data didn’t alter the content of “official” news. It only identified where it came from. Whenever there was a question about the validity of a news story, the powers that be pointed to the presence of the micro-data as proof that the story was true. The accuracy of the story itself seemed irrelevant. Any news story that did not have the micro-data was deemed to be false, regardless of its content.
In the dream, I understood that this system had been set up as a way to control public opinion through the use of psychological warfare. The dream seems to reveal one of the human motives at work in the war on fake news.
In another dream, I saw what I can only describe as a civil war that took place on social media. There was intense debate about the truth of issues and events. The people and organizations involved spread lies and disinformation. The battle over the truth was fierce. It caused polarization and hatred between families and friends. Many people walked away from long-term relationships because of their opposing views.
This second dream reveals one of the enemy’s agendas. God wants His people to be united. The enemy wants us to be divided. If the kingdom of darkness wants one thing in the fake news war, it’s to create animosity and hatred among us. Division is the one thing we must resist. And this has been difficult for me. My emotions can cause me to think it’s okay to sacrifice relationships when I disagree with someone over ideologies.
Facebook and Google have decided to flag news content they deem to be fake news. But there’s a problem. Rather than do it themselves, they’ve decided to outsource the work. The fact-checkers Facebook has chosen like Snopes, Poynter, and Politifact all have poor marks for either reliability or neutrality. To any objective person, the fact-checking of fake news looks like censorship.
Google and Facebook are privately owned entities. They’re allowed to set whatever policies they like. Facebook has said they want to avoid manipulating newsfeeds, but this year’s algorithm manipulation scandal showed their anti-conservative agenda. The war on fake news appears to be an attempt to silence dissenters on the right.
Censorship of the news isn’t the solution. Dealing with fake news (the kind that is intentionally misleading) is an education issue. We need to train people how to recognize confirmation bias and we need to help them discriminate between legitimate news and fake news.
The other question is what to do with views we don’t agree with. Censorship shouldn’t be tolerated as a means of silencing the expression of opposing political views. Suppression of dissenting opinion has been used by every oppressive political regime in history.
Discerning Fake From Real
Some of my friends have asked, so I’m going to give my advice for reading the news:
No news source gets every story right. Some are better than others, but they all make mistakes. Try to find news sources that get it right most of the time. When you find one that has a good track record, bookmark it and go back regularly. Good reporting deserves our loyalty.
Know your own biases and know the biases of the news sources you read. Factor them in when you read a news story. Counter the effects of bias and avoid letting it be your rudder.
Read a number of reports from different sources on the same event. Many times, the agenda of a news source is revealed not by what it reports, but by what it doesn’t. Compare enough news sources and you’ll quickly learn how well or how poorly each one does its job.
Look for news sources that substantiate their claims. If a source routinely publishes stories without substantiating its facts, stop reading it and look somewhere else.
Since Facebook has decided to censor news, if you use it, you might consider getting yours somewhere else. Know what Facebook does well and use it for that. (I use it to connect with friends. I don’t use it for news.)
I’ve recently become more active on Twitter. I follow people who are on the front lines, reporting news around the world as it breaks. These folks don’t work for the mainstream media. They’re independent reporters and many of them are doing a good job. (I wish I could say that about everyone, but there are still many unreliable sources out there.) Twitter has its own issues, but it’s still a better place for finding news than Facebook.
It appears that the war against fake news is here to stay. Get educated and ask God to show you the truth. And remember to treat people who disagree with you in love.