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Fake News and Beyond: Reliable Sources

This page addresses the issue of "fake news" and uses it as a springboard for talking about finding trustworthy sources in general

“Fake news” - not a new problem!

"Fake News" in the News! Is actor Denzel Washington right?

I’m hearing a lot about “fake news” lately. What does this term refer to?

As the Washington Post reports: “Fake news can now… refer to the phenomenon of a news source publishing something that is inaccurate but is still believed and shared by readers.”

In other words, even news that is selectively reported* or unintentionally misleading**, has now come to be lumped together with “deliberately fabricated stories, often with the purpose of making money for the creators.”

Agree or disagree?

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*Our biases and “blind spots” are always a part of us! – even as we might strive to be more fair in seeing things as they are, holding our own attitudes in check.

**Like things the Post itself sometimes has published – see here and here for example.

Why is this happening now?

Allow a brief, incomplete answer. In general, it is good to have a healthy skepticism, but today, people are doing what schools have been emphasizing in recent years: “question[] information sources and rais[e] doubts about the incentives of those who are pushing a single message” (Boyd, 2016). Sometimes that is undoubtedly good, but sometimes that is undoubtedly bad.

Agree or disagree?

What to do (A)

1. Do your best to be reliably informed through institutions, publications, and particular persons that, in spite of their biases and their incentives*, prove to be generally accurate and reliable in what they report, and who also see value in listening to – and accurately presenting the thoughts of! – those of alternative viewpoints.

Agree or disagree?

*a for-profit site, for example, may have a greater incentive to not only produce “clickbait,” but lie or spin

What to do? (B)

Note that the most reliable institutions, publications, and persons will, in part:

2. Fact-check their sources and themselves (“umbudsmen” are good!), and be upfront about the practices and methods that they use to gain knowledge.

3. Admit when they are wrong about facts and issue actual corrections (preferably prominently placed ones) or retractions -  especially if the initial stories were “front page” material that received a lot of attention.

4. Realize that issues of truth, and hence ethics, go hand-in-hand with issues of authority (cultural and political power are therefore connected with, but not the same thing as, authority).

5. Be more transparent than not about their deeper underlying biases, worldviews ("controlling narratives") – and some will even give their well-thought out reasons and evidence supporting their views of the world.

Agree or disagree?

Have you found this helpful? Dive deeper!

What about your own biases? Are either Rush Limbaugh or John Stewart, for that matter, really “news”?

I address these questions, answer other questions, and provide some good sources for extra digging and thinking here.

If you would like to interact with me, responding to my persistent "Agree or Disagree?" prompting, you can do that by accessing the same document here on a blog I produced.

 

What are some helpful skills and tools?

1. A fact-checking site like snopes.com has, historically, been generally respected because of a reputation, across the spectrum, for real fairness and reliability...

2. Some polling organizations continue to be highly regarded and respected. Gallup is one such organization (Pew is another), as it is very transparent in its methodology...

3. You can do a reverse image search in Google, for example, to track down the original sources of images on the internet (see here for a “how-to” example). Tin Eye will also do image searches. Google Translate can help you to get a rough translation of foreign news sources. Regular Google can help you check cross-reference quotes (just put quote marks around the phrase!)

For more thoughts, see the short piece I created in the box above.

Context, context, context! Image from https://twitter.com/Botanygeek/status/817277095608983557