Fake News and How to Navigate the Rabbit Hole of Information

Fake News and How to Navigate the Rabbit Hole of Information July 7, 2017

Alice in Wonderland
“Drink Me”
By Giselle Marie

How are you supposed to know what is true and what isn’t about Transgender people on social media? The term fake news has become a thing lately. Conservatives like to use it when they don’t like what the news says about Trump. Liberals like to use it when they don’t like what news said about Trump. We also have a lot of suspect groups out there promoting their own data to suit their agenda.

Earlier this week I created quite a stir pointing out that a story from the president of the American College of Pediatricians was problematic. I have seen stories from their staff before and already knew they were not an objective organization and twisted data to suit their agenda. I knew this because I once read an article from them that was alarming to me. It took me about 5 minutes to learn that they were a fringe group.

Most of what I’m about to say is likely common sense to most of us, but even if you already know all of this, consider it a reminder. Before I get into that, I need to remind you of why this matters.

Why Facts Matter

I had an old friend who is a school nurse quote inaccurate data from the American College of Pediatricians about transgender children who are on puberty blockers. She’s an evangelical Christian and up until that moment, hid her biases against the LGBTQIA community well. The three things she said was that puberty blockers were being administered to young prepubescent children, they would use them the child’s entire life, and this is child abuse. I was flabbergasted.

This is a nurse who in a school is the resident medical expert. She has put her agenda before facts and it has a dangerous affect on every child that comes into her office or may need her assistance in administering medication. I have interacted with parents of transgender children who have had to go to battle with school nurses to get their child’s civil rights upheld. Most school nurses are amazing people, but sometimes they become the self appointed gatekeeper compounding trauma and misinformation.

What if my friend had been a school counselor? Imagine the harm she could have caused if she had a child who had no other access to a therapist confide that they are LGBTQIA. If this school therapist believes that supporting a child is abuse and that orientation and gender identity can be “corrected”, she can do real harm? By the way, this happens.

I cannot imagine being in a scientific field like healthcare or psychology and not following best practices. It boggles my mind that someone would be so cavalier with facts knowing that getting it wrong could have deadly consequences.

If you spread information that is alarmist or inaccurate there could be repercussions. At the least harmful you will appear foolish or gullible to your friends and peers, at the worst, you may have contributed to harm to other human beings.

As you can see, facts matter.

Sifting Wheat From Chaff

I will be honest, I was going to create my own list of tips. I decided against creating my own. It would have essentially been me rewording very well written material. I would rather send you to what I felt was the most simple and comprehensive one I came across in my research:

“How to Spot Fake News” by the good people at factcheck.org.

Please click that link above and read it. In case you do not, here are the main points. The last one is most critical.

  1. Consider the source.
  2. Read beyond the headline.
  3. Check the author.
  4. Where’s the support?
  5. Check the date.
  6. Is this some kind of joke (satire)?
  7. Consult the experts.
  8. Check your biases!!!!

I put point 8 in bold for a reason. Confirmation bias is a real thing and it gets in the way of facts too often. If we read something that confirms what we already believe to be true, we run with it as fact. We need to always be skeptical, even when we agree with it’s findings.

I wish things were different. Having worked in journalism as a photographer and a columnist in both the pre internet and modern era, I have a huge respect for what reporters do, especially the ones who use best practices in writing their stories. I was never a journalist. Most of what I have written has been op/ed or short “staff reporter” stories that are very basic and little more than a factual press release. There has been a shift lately that bugs me. I wish I could fix it, I wish a lot of things.

My Wish List

I wish that the press would not give fringe groups equal footing in news stories as often as they do. They used to vet the sources for us, you do not see that happening as much lately and we have to do the heavy lifting. This is frustrating and, in my opinion, sloppy for a news agency. It is one thing when an op/ed blogger or columnist doesn’t do it, it is a breach of journalistic integrity when a reporter and editorial staff fails to vet the sources of a story labeled as news.

I wish that people were not so quick to assume what they read in the news is fact. There is satire shared on social media as if it were fact too often. I would love to tell you I have never done it. That would be a lie. Sometimes when that has happened I claim I was duped. The truth of the matter is, I did not look closely into what I was reading before reacting.

I wish we did not react and lean to conformation bias so often. There should not be liberal news and conservative news. I think there is a place for liberal and conservative op/ed. I think there is a place for religious and secular op/ed. But the op/ed should be coming from an unbiased source and people need to recognize the difference between news and opinion.

I wish I knew how to get these tips to be read and applied by more people. Lives are on the line.

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