So Barack Obama was absolutely born in Africa, which is why he's tried to ban the national anthem at sporting events . . .
And Donald Trump, who was endorsed by Pope Francis, actually won the popular vote in the 2016 Presidential election. . . .
And when she's not killing FBI agents, Hillary Clinton runs an international child exploitation ring headquartered in a Washington D.C. pizzeria.
Believe any of this stuff?
Hope not--because it's ALL NONSENSE, not even remotely close to reality. Poppycock to be polite. Horse droppings to be more graphic.
Yet you can find all of this misinformation (a.k.a. LIES) online, often on bottom feeder news sites, on websites claiming to tell you the inside dope (a most appropriate word here), and--yeah--even on the pages of popular social media platforms (are you listening, Facebook?). Though more reputable news organizations are less likely to fall victim to fake news, they too stumble at times, often when trying to be first with a scoop or simply when someone decides to play loose with the facts.
Fake news isn't new, of course. Journalism has always had its share of people who bent the facts to suit their own needs or--when that failed--simply made up things to sway opinion and sell newspapers. Our history has no shortage of fabricated news, from far-fetched pieces about miracle cures and colonies on the Moon to made-up stories about war atrocities. Some people, like Mark Twain, made up stories to make mischief with readers; others, like publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, had darker ends, distorting (and sometimes inventing) facts to drum up support for a war.
But motivations aside, selling swill has often been profitable for those with a printing press or (more recently) a website. The challenge, for readers, is ferreting out the truth--a difficult thing, especially in confusing times.
And it's especially hard right now, when we're greeted each day with a tsunami of information from bloggers, websites, online publications, and aggregate news sites, some of whose content wouldn't meet anyone's standards for accuracy or integrity.
So how should a person who's eager to stay informed about the world navigate the misinformation highway?
For starters, some old-school advice: Don't believe everything you read or hear, at least at first blush. Just because somebody's saying something--in a book, in a newspaper, on a website, in a blog, on television, on a podcast or news broadcast--doesn't mean it's entirely (or even partially) accurate. People sometimes misstate things. They sometimes omit important facts. They sometimes out and out lie.
Second, when you come upon news that seems kind of out there, see what's being reported elsewhere. Are other reporters and/or news outlets talking about the same thing? Are their facts consistent (at least more or less) with your source's? Be suspicious if no else appears to be reporting this red-hot news item. And if you're curious about the source of some juicy news, google a key word and see what comes up.
Third, know the politics and reputation of the site/source you're reading. Almost every news site has a little bias, even those that try their best to be objective. But others are decidedly pushing an agenda, be it liberal or conservative or whatever. And be especially careful about zealots, some of whom masquerade as reasonable middle-of-the-roaders when they're anything but. If you're unsure about the politics of an individual or group or site whose news flashes make your jaw drop, poke around the net and see what you can learn about your source's reputation. Others' impressions may put what you're reading in perspective.
This is a challenging time for those of us trying to make sense out of what we're reading and hearing. But no matter what your politics, you need to think carefully and critically about what you're encountering online, in print, or on the tube. Don't dismiss bold claims out of hand, but don't accept them as absolute truth either.
For when you're trying to sort out fact from fantasy, you can't afford to put your brain on hold.