fake news

You can’t fight evil with bullshit

Donald Trump has spent years telling outrageous lies. He’s continued to do so since assuming office, even lying about obviously verifiable things like what he’s tweeted about or the size of his inauguration crowd.

He is attacking the idea that truth matters, and trying to make people give up on telling the difference between the truth and a lie. This is dangerously disoriented.

In order to stay oriented, we need to care what’s true. This is easier said than done. In the short term, bullshit is often much more politically convenient than the truth. In the long term, if we create a world in which the truth doesn’t matter, we will end up defenseless. 

We need to keep in mind that being on the right side doesn’t make everything someone might say true. Good people can tell lies. Good people can get things wrong. Their goodness doesn’t make the lie true. 

Being marginalized doesn’t mean that someone always knows what they’re talking about. Being oppressed doesn’t make people infallible; being wrong doesn’t make someone privileged. 

Similarly, not every rumor about a bad person is accurate. Lies told about a bad person are still lies. (And not everyone who has a bad reputation is actually a bad person.)

Be careful about spreading rumors. Learn to recognize fake news, and avoid spreading it. If something doesn’t sound true to you, ask for citations or investigate. Everyone can be wrong, and you don’t have to believe anyone without being persuaded that they are right. Evidence matters, arguments matter. (And being a good person isn’t a substitute for either.)

You can’t fight evil with bullshit. In order to fight evil, we have to care what’s true. 

Beware of fake news

There are a lot of fake news sites on the internet. They make up fake stories that people will want to share and click on, then make money from advertising. They don’t care whether a story is true or not, and sometimes the lies they make up have serious consequences. 

Given how many fake stories are around, it’s important to learn how to be skeptical of fake stories so you don’t get tricked. 

One way to tell whether news is fake or real is to look at where it’s coming from. If you don’t know the source for something, try googling it before you share it. If you can’t find a source that looks credible, it’s likely made up.

Similarly, if you see a link to an article and you don’t recognize the domain name, it might be from a fake news website. Before you decide whether to believe the story or not, click through to the website and see what else is there. If the other things on the site look fake, the story you clicked is likely fake too.

(Some sites contain both real and fake news. But if a story *only* appears on a fake news website, it’s almost certainly fake. So if you can’t find the story anywhere else, err on the side of assuming it’s fake.)

There are a lot of different indications that a story is fake — I don’t know all of them, but I do know a good way to learn them:

If you read snopes.com and politifact.com regularly, it can help you to learn how to recognize fake stories and unfounded rumors. Those two sites examine a lot of rumors. Then they say which ones are true, which ones aren’t, which are partly true, and how they know. They also say which ones they’re not sure about, and why they’re not sure. They explain a lot about how rumors spread, and what the signs are that something is made up. 

The more examples you’re familiar with, the harder it is to trick you into believing fake stories. Both because you won’t believe the stories that you already know are fake — and because seeing a lot of examples analyzed makes it easier to spot the signs of a made up story. 

tl;dr Fake news is a big problem right now. One way to increase your immunity to fake news is to read snopes.com and politifact.com regularly. Scroll up for a couple more suggestions on how to detect fake news.