April 24th, 2017 .

False Versus Fake: Why no news is true news

Pat Morden

A few days ago, I found a fascinating new feature at the top of my Facebook feed. It was titled “Tips for spotting false news,” and included the usual advice about checking URLs, investigating sources, and looking at other sources.

And my personal favourite: “Is the story a joke? Sometimes false news stories can be hard to distinguish from humor or satire.”

My favourite kind of fake news! I especially love this one:

Today President Donald Trump made what could very well prove to be the most controversial move of his presidency by signing Executive Order 14838, which cancels the television show Saturday Night Live or SNL. During the press conference today, Trump explained that his decision was based on a personal belief that the show is ‘divisive’ and ‘contrary to America’s deepest held values.’”

To be honest, though, the advice offered by Facebook didn’t seem very useful to me. And it certainly didn’t help me deal with President Trump’s renewed attacks on the “Fake Media” which he claimed had “gotten even worse since the election.”

So, what is the difference between the “false news” Facebook wants to warn me about, and “fake news” Mr. Trump insists is produced by “Fake Media” like the New York Times and Washington Post?

One commentator (okay, it was a lady on The View) offered this explanation. “Fake news is about the intention to mislead, making up a story to mislead. False news is speaking mistruths.” Well, that helps.

Fake and false are virtual synonyms, of course, but there appear to be shades of meaning largely based on which side of the U.S. political divide you stand. As far as I can tell, “fake news” is news that is politically motivated. For the President and his pals, that means any news that doesn’t agree with and support his positions is fake. For those on the other side, it means that almost everything Mr. Trump tweets is fake.

No wonder most of us are confused! According to recent research, teenagers and college students in the U.S. display a “stunning and dismaying consistency” in their inability to distinguish credible from fake news online. For example, more than 80% of middle schoolers believed that a “sponsored content” article was a real news story.

So what’s a truth-seeker to do? Give your head a shake. Use some common sense. Don’t believe only the things you want to believe. Oh, and bookmark Snopes.com.


P.S. For the past year I’ve been posting my blogs to my profile on linkedin.com. If you’d like see more, visit me there.

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