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Living in the Fake News era: While We’re Waiting

The world of sports have been incredibly entertaining and a welcome respite from the ongoings outside it the past year. Even league sources citing to be debunked rumors about players demanding trades of their teammates feels mild given the current political climate. The worst of it has been people’s eagerness to glom onto alternative facts and fake news alongside the media’s willingness to satiate those desires. So, while we Stick to Sports in our other posts today, here’s a deeper dive into the current state of media to start your Wednesday morning.

The Superbowl is not immune to the trials of our society. Tom Brady reportedly had his jersey stolen during postgame festivities, and a few Boston fans decided to have some fun by taking a selfie with a Brady jersey and posting it under the hashtag #stolehisjersey. A full minute of investigative work would have divulged this particular jersey was not the Superbowl 51 model that Brady wore during the game. Instead, Ian Rapoport tweeted the news out to his 1.21 million followers. Thankfully, this episode is rather innocuous, but that is not always the case.

RapSheet Fake News

Fake news started trending as a mainstream topic during the election cycle though it had been creeping up on us since news organizations started caring more about page clicks, social media reach, and immediately pushing information rather than vetting and providing journalism value. Far too rarely are the purveyors of the faulty information held accountable. Only the extreme cases, such as when Rolling Stone featured a gang rape at the University of Virginia that never happened,1 are penalized.

The President of the United States, Donald Trump, is having a word war with CNN by calling it fake news,2 while White House counselor Kellyanne Conway talks about a Bowling Green massacre that never happened and White House press secretary Sean Spicer is said to use alternative facts.

CNN has not been guilt-free on their side as they continue to issue silent retractions after outlandish lies have spread like crazy. For instance, CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny tweeted to his 191,000 followers that the SCOTUS nominee would be announced via a reality show style contest due to twitter pages being set up for both potential nominees. No checking was done. The pages were note verified, not setup by the White House, and the entire premise was completely fraudulent. A retraction was issued, but the orginal tweet (already spread like wildfire and continuing to spread) was not deleted. As Winston Churchill noted “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

The Atlantic recently noted fake news coming more from left-side of the aisle since the inauguration. Most of these are non-serious news organizations taking advantage of emotional response amongst liberals from the Trump becoming POTUS. Brooke Binkowski, the managing editor of Snopes, noted people gravitate towards baseless claims they want to believe.

If it arouses an emotional response is you—if you see the headline and go, I can’t believe this, I’m so angry—then it’s probably something you need to check against something else. News is going to be rage-inducing, it’s going to be terrifying, it will make you happy. But if you have that visceral a response to something, then it is written specifically to arouse that response so you’ll share it. Just say no.

One of the examples of this desire for something to be truth happened shortly after the Executive Order on immigration. There were some who so wanted to decry the measure they latched onto a gut-wrenching story of an Iraqi man whose mother died shortly after being denied entry, while the man was allowed through. Retractions followed days later after some fact-checking revealed the woman died before the order was ever signed, but the headline now mentality allowed this to be one of the calling cards of the protests that sprung up that weekend.

Throwing our emotional baggage into the traffic of the internet ends up causing a pile up of opposing forces clashing rather than allow for any semblence of sane discussion. Instead of focusing on the portions of the EO that were possibly unconstitutional and might well be struck down as they go to the judiciary branch, anecdotal evidence was utilized to villify the order. When this supposed evidence turns out to be false, the argument on both sides shift to debating the validity of the anecdotes rather than the issues. It might feel good in the moment to meme Betsy Devos and grizzly bears out of context,3 but everyone that does is building a wall to block out meaningful discussion.

The result has been continuing an extreme bipartisanship that has ramped up the past decade. Neither congressmen nor the executive office appear to be willing to cooperate on even simple issues for the betterment of the country. While it would be great to label them dirty politicians and move on, the fault appears to lie directly in the constituents. Yeah, you and me.

Lest anyone think this is a Trump isolated occurence, here is the same data used to compare Barack Obama’s last year with Trump’s current session. Note that President Obama did enjoy a honeymoon to begin his first 100 days in office in the mind of public opinion. The social media world has led us to a much different place just eight years later.

Are we doomed?

At the micro level, people are great. We treat each other with respect. We empathize with the struggles we see others going through. Commonalities are found and differences are discussed through a mutual understanding even when agreement cannot be found.

At the macro level, people are terrible. We resort to the lowest common denominator through snark, memes, and hateful words. We rigidly abide by the messaging of our particlar groups without thought towards others.

Hope is found through humanity’s ability to perservere through trials often better than periods of peace. More people seem to be invested in politics, which is a start. The problem is too many are quick to accept whatever headline or news line comes by without digesting and using critical thought. The next step needs to be getting people interested in going deeper than their emotional responses.

There are people already helping create resources to combat the fake news era. Librarians in Washington state have developed a class to teach elementary students how to spot articles and headlines meant to rile up rather than inform. There are websites such as AllSides dedicated towards breaking down the barriers people have put up. This particular site lays out the news from across the spectrum with the hope that understanding our personal biases and the viewpoints of others can help navigate towards useful debate.

The current era of fake news and overreacting to every headline is upon us. What are you doing to steer us away from it?

  1. Penalties cost them one million dollars in damages. []
  2. Note: The war itself is quite common for an incoming POTUS as Barack Obama attempted to freeze out FOX News in 2009. []
  3. The context was she was asked a specific question about why she felt a federal mandate to ban guns in schools would not work. She noted those laws needed to be done at a local level and provided an anecdotal evidence of a specific school in Wyoming. “I think that is a unique need to Wyoming, certainly,” DeVos remarked. “But certainly rural schools and rural settings require different approaches and different options.” []