Did Poland ban mosques? Did Obama release Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from custody in 2004? Did 55 percent of conservative Christians tell pollsters they would disown children who were homo sapiens? Did the KKK march behind a Trump-Pence banner? Did Pelosi use $15,000 worth of pens to sign the impeachment document?
No. No. No. No. No.
Every single one of these “news” items is completely false—like hundreds, maybe thousands, of others circulating wildly on social media.
Some of these lies are aimed at outraging progressive/left-leaning people, and some target the concerns of conservative/right-leaning folks. What they have in common is the damage they do, both by worsening divisions and distrust between us and by undermining belief in our news media and our democratic institutions.
Researchers from Clemson University traced Russian social media lies targeting both right-wing and left-wing audiences, and concluded:
“The Russians know that, in political warfare, disgust is a more powerful tool than anger. Anger drives people to the polls; disgust drives countries apart.”
While Russian propagandists continue to try to undermine our democracy and our elections, they are not the only purveyors of lies and division. Our nation’s enemies, foreign and domestic, sow division and despair.
As Americans, we need to fight back against all of the liars. We can do it. We can fight the lies. Here are five ways you can fight back:
Think for yourself.
Did Obama release Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi from custody in 2004? That phony news is still circulating, but anybody who thinks twice can tell it is false. Obama was not elected president until 2008. He could not release anyone from custody in 2004.
If a news item you see on social media seems strange or outrageous—even if it is in line with your political beliefs—look for more information. Above all, do not just share an outrageous story with others before confirming that it is factual.
Check your source.
Where did the “news” item come from? Phony news sites abound. Sometimes the URL address is only one or two letters different from a mainstream news source. Sometimes the phony site is populated with articles that have been copied from other news sites, to make it look real. Sometimes a propaganda site publishes outright lies with a disclaimer saying that it “publishes satire.” Sometimes people repost actual satire as news, not recognizing that it is satire.
Be especially wary of photos and videos. Both can be altered, like the phony photo that appears to show the KKK marching behind a Trump-Pence banner or the phony photo that appears to show Hillary Clinton shaking hands with Osama bin Laden.
Consult fact checkers.
Snopes.com and PolitiFact.com and FactCheck.org are three possibilities. Read the whole article in any of them: there’s usually more to the story than a simple yes or no.
If you can’t find the information there, ask someone you trust. Ask me! I spend a lot of time sorting truth from lies, and I care very much about finding the truth.
Wait for the whole story.
First-hour or first-day reports are usually incomplete and often wrong.
Look for a second report. If the “news” in a social media post is real, it will be published on multiple news sites.
Mainstream media has many faults, but it does care about facts. Read / watch / listen to solid news reporting. On social media, follow people and organizations whose accuracy you trust.
I read massive amounts of news reporting every day, and have for most of my life. Here are some of the news sources that I find useful and informative:
For daily national news:
National Public Radio
New York Times
The New Yorker
PBS News Hour
For daily Minnesota news:
Minnesota Public Radio
I’m also watching a relative newcomer: Minnesota Reformer
For investigative reporting:
Center for Investigative Reporting
I could go on … and on … and on. If you want more, take a look at some of my previous posts:
- Don’t believe everything you read: Phony news and how to spot it
- “Fact. Wow!” Making sense of the news
- Lies, damn lies and Facebook lies: Update on phony news
- Not really the news: Outright lies and hoaxes
As Fox Mulder said every week in X-Files, the truth is out there. Don’t settle for lies.