There has been a growing awareness that the internet has created a great deal of noise: often repeated statements that appear to be factual but are
not. Some call this "fake news." Others call it the "lying mainstream media." The choice of description depends on one's political orientation or
belief system. In addition to deliberate black propaganda, or "disinformation," there has always been a buzz of rumor, gossip, urban legends, faulty
reporting, and outright hoaxing.
Unfortunately, just as the internet has made it possible to access legitimate information, it has also made it easier to access false "information."
As Mark Twain said in the age of telegraphy, "a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”
Contrary to what some rumor mongers have been saying, the First Amendment is not in danger in the United States. Your favorite alternative news sites
will not be closed down, nor will the corporate media be muzzled. Freedom of expression is safe, which means anyone can say what they want if they are
prepared to have someone else contradict them.
This freedom comes with responsibility. The first is on the part of the person (or entity) exercising that right. First and foremost, one must express
one's self honestly. Unfortunately, many do not. In fact, they take advantage of the assumption of honesty to circulate falsehoods, whether for
political ends or just their own amusement.
A subtler responsibility was pointed out by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his "Open Letter To America." As a writer in a state where censorship was
imposed, he realized that one should only speak out if what one has to say is important. Unfortunately, social media have allowed everyone to say
anything, however unimportant. It is this, even more than the deliberate distortion of truth, that has made it so difficult to tell what is real or
The "flip side" of this is the responsibility of those on the receiving end to exercise critical thinking. Every citizen in a free society must ask
themselves two questions when receiving information: Is it true, and is it important?
The web is full of unimportant distractions passing as "news." Celebrity gossip, hoaxes, useless information... commonly called "clickbait," because
their sole function is to lure people into navigating onto a website for commercial purposes. Although this would not seem to be harmful on the
surface, it does create a great deal of noise, making it difficult for some to decide what is truly important,
What has become most controversial of late, however, is determining what genuinely important "information" is genuine or true. This is where critical
thinking comes in. The same skills that allow you to spot a con artist can help you spot disinformation.
1) If it's too good to be true, it probably isn't. If a story appeals to your emotions or beliefs, be sure to question it. Seek out multiple
2) Evaluate whether a source is reliable. Learn about what constitutes legitimate journalistic practice. Do they rely on first hand reporting? Use
multiple sources? Verify claims? Attribute statements properly?
3) Track stories back to their original source. The internet is an echo chamber that repeats things uncritically. Evaluate the original
along the lines above.
4) Be wary of a story that is repeated verbatim across multiple ideologically aligned sites, especially blogs. Again, trace the story back to its
5) Seek out multiple views. If the story makes a claim about Russia, go to the Russian media and see what they have to say. If the claim is about
China, check Chinese sources. You might be surprised by how many internet rumors fall apart when you take this simple step.
Remember, it is your responsibility evaluate the truthfulness of what you see on the web. No-one else can do it for you. If anyone has any other
suggestions for evaluating online news, please suggest them below.
edit on 24-11-2016 by DJW001 because: Edit to polish
edit on 24-11-2016 by DJW001 because: (no reason given)