Monday, November 28, 2016

Just say no to fake news

November is a dark month for baseball fans. It’s too early to talk about spring training and the hot stove isn’t even warm — there’s just not that much to say right now. Rather than just making stuff up (about Ortiz wanting to return one more season but worried about the “Trump effect”), I’m not even going to write about baseball this week.

So who’s to blame? TRUMP!  Yes, let’s blame him. It’s definitely his fault. Now share this with everyone you know on Facebook and say “Here’s the proof: it’s Trump’s fault that Ortiz is not coming back!” I’ve saved you the trouble of having to think for yourself or even read a short sentence. Now that you’ve saved all your friends and neighbors from the truth, go back to playing Candy Crush.

All kidding aside, we’re all a bit to blame. In the age of the 24 hour news cycle, information reduced to 140 characters and a language down to letters (ICYMI: TTYL), we’ve dumbed ourselves down so far that we’ve actually lowered our own IQs. In the last 10 years, circulation for the Providence Sunday Journal has dropped by more than half and many of us are getting our news from online sources — not journalists — but sources who make money from advertisers based on the number of clicks that their stories receive. So my “Ortiz considers return for second farewell season” story could be a goldmine and the real story — that there’s little to report on our retired hero — gets as many views as the ProJo classifieds.

During the presidential campaign, fake news was abundant and supporters on both sides were (and are) guilty of sharing and promoting untruth all over social media. I was hoping it would die down a bit but a quick look at my Facebook feed and I can see that Steve Bannon is both Satan and a populist. While I hope social media goes back to being a safe place to view cat videos and share common stain fighting techniques, it’s incumbent on all of us to push back on the wave of fake news.

Start by being a bit skeptical. Are you clicking on things that are tempting but sound crazy (lose 20 pounds watching TV!) or are you getting our online news from a reliable source? When you read a newspaper or watch the news do you think about the sources they cite or the perspectives that the reporter sought? There are no unbiased sources of information since the people putting the stories together are (presumably) human and produce their pieces from their perspective, but paid journalists have reputations to maintain and aren’t just looking for a quick click.

Be careful what you share. Don’t circulate clickbait, block it from your page and “unlike” anything that isn’t legitimate. In the pay-per-click world, your “likes” are gold. And of course, share your newfound discipline with your children. If I could count the number of conversations that started, “Hey Mom - I saw this thing on Tumblr…” and ended with the equivalent of “ okay, so Grant IS buried in Grant’s tomb,” I’d have my very own media empire.

If in doubt, just remember what Nancy Reagan said, “just say no” to fake news. OMG. JSN.

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