Fake news and alternative facts
That’s the era pundits and professors say we’ve now entered. A time with such an overwhelming excess of information, much of it circulated through the digital tentacles of the Internet, that finding information that is verifiable as true becomes increasingly difficult.
Last fall, Stanford University did a study showing a disturbing number of middle school students have trouble deciphering fake news from real news.
Not only is truth harder to find, but also, disturbingly, it is becoming less important. Look to the new president of the United States and his administration for a fantastic example of this.
Last weekend, Donald Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer had a confrontational maiden meeting with the White House press gallery. He spent that time lambasting the media for what he said was inaccurate coverage of the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration the day before.
The press had shown, accurately, that there were far fewer people at Trump’s inauguration than there had been at Barack Obama’s 2009 ceremony. There were heaps of photographic and video evidence, from established media outlets, of bare bleachers along the parade route and a half empty National Mall.
Yet Spicer claimed the inauguration turnout had been the largest in history.
It’s probable that the point of his lie was not necessarily to get everyone to believe it, but to demonstrate just how meaningless the truth has become.
One of Trump’s senior advisors then told the press that what Spicer had been offering were “alternative facts.”
Alternative facts! There is of course no such thing as an alternative fact. An alternative fact is a lie.
None of this is very shocking, coming from the staff of a man who rode into the presidency on a wave of carefully constructed rhetoric and falsehoods, an Orwellian web of lies and double-speak so convoluted it’s almost impossible for fact-checkers to keep up.
Trump also has the power to override and undermine traditional media and communicate directly with the population through a Twitter account with tens of millions of followers.
In a time of such convolution and murky truth, what can consumers of media do?
Don’t spread false information. Before you share a link or an article on social media, make sure you verify the source. Make sure you have, in fact, read the article all the way through.
If an informed population is the cornerstone of democracy, then a misinformed population is a cracked foundation.
There is one incredible, surefire way to avoid the consumption of fake news.
Go to a store – any grocery or convenience store, it doesn’t matter – and look for a rack.
On that rack you’ll find periodicals, some of which have been published for well over a century, full of international, national and local news. Trained professionals, who were paid to ensure the information contained in them is verifiable truth, wrote those periodicals.
Amazing, isn’t it?