What does it matter if your mind is fixed as a progressive liberal or staunch conservative as long as your view of the world is affirmed? Do you care that your affirmation comes from enemy intelligence in a country whose arsenal is pointed at you as you read this? Probably not.
But you should. (It may be too late.)
“According to MSNBC”–that phrase, indicating the source of information–may upset you off if you believe its reporters invent fake news as enemies of the people. “According to Fox News” may do the same to another group of voters.
Well, here’s the news: More than 290,000 Facebook accounts are following pages reportedly assembled by Russian entities with the sole purpose of undermining American’s beliefs in democracy.
You can read about it here, from Fox News. Or here from the New York Times.
The stories are basically the same because both news organizations are reporting fact. Their opinion writers, bloggers and commentators may side on the right or left of the political spectrum. But that doesn’t define basic news reporting.
Do you really want to protect yourself from fake news? If so, here’s a handy guide, “Media Literacy in the Era of the Machine.” You can access it for free like so many other resources on Internet.
But you probably aren’t interested. At least, not yet. Until maybe it’s too late.
Here’s a test: Do you believe that former President Obama signed an executive order banning the Pledge of Allegiance in Schools?
Well, that was the top 2016 fake news story doctored to resemble ABC News, garnering 2.1 million shares and comments in two months. According to BuzzFeed, some 3,000 US adults were fooled by fake news 75 percent of the time, with Facebook likely as their main source.
But if you dislike President Obama you might think he’d sign such an unpatriotic order, even if you were told it wasn’t true.
Maybe you believe that First Lady Melania Trump so dislikes her husband, refusing to accompany him in public appearances, that a body double was hired just for show. Some 9 million people seemed to think so based on a flimsy social media post that suggested that with no evidence whatsoever, according to Snopes, the fact-checking site.
But if you so loathe President Trump you might think this was a distinct possibility, even if you were told it wasn’t true.
So maybe fake vs. real news doesn’t matter to you … until it does.
You live in a dangerous world. About 4 people in every 100,000 will die because of gun violence. It doesn’t matter whether you are for or against the Second Amendment if your loved one is one of those four. Suddenly you have perspective. Diseases happen, especially cancer. Did you know that the National Cancer Institute says that immunotherapy– treatments that empower a person’s immune system–is increasingly effective? Perhaps you didn’t read news reports about the importance of annual checkups, especially if you have been treated for cancer before. Viruses–the human rather than computer kind–kill as many as 49,000 people each year. Did you know that 80 percent of child flu deaths occur in those who failed to be vaccinated?
True, you may encounter these fact-based stories on Facebook. Or maybe you missed them looking at kitten videos. Maybe you were sharing posts by Russian agents and bots.
In the past, when news mattered–and it matters less and less, with newsroom employment down 23% in 10 years–we wouldn’t read the entire New York Times or Wall Street Journal each day. But we knew where to find factual information when situations warranted.
We are losing that knowledge. It’s tragic for some. Perhaps even all of us in America.
For more information about social media and fake news, see Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine, one of the first such works to track Facebook and its impact on society since 2004.