Some Thoughts on Fake News that You’ll Never Believe!

Man. I don’t feel good about that click baity headline. But maybe it caught your attention. It must have since you’re reading.

Earlier today I wrote a bit of a tweetstorm about the state of fake news and how to combat it. Truth be told, I don’t think there is a way to stop it. But more on that later.

Fake News isn’t some new thing

First things first: Fake News isn’t new. The Daily Show is over 20 years old. The Onion, a very popular (and obviously fake) news outlet has been around since 1988. According to this article by Politico* it started around the time of the Printing Press.

Here’s the thing: People lie. A lot. For whatever reason. Maybe they don’t want to get in trouble (“I didn’t break the chair!”). Maybe they want to push an agenda (**Partisan Statement that turned out to be a lie**). Lies are as old as time itself*. They will definitely make their way into the news.

People Believe what They want to Believe

It’s a bigger issue today because information travels fast — really fast. And you can find any information you want on anything, so it’s easy to backup your claims using any old link. This brings me to my next point: people believe what they want to believe, no matter what.

It’s part of the reason arguing with [dad/brother/uncle/coworker/rando on Twitter] is so frustrating. You’re not going to change the hearts and minds of most people. It’s kind of sad, but it’s true. It’s really up to big media organizations to make sure we get real news. However…

Ad Money > The Truth

The truth is news organizations need to make money, and ads are still the best way to do it. And for ads to work, people need to view the pages with ads on them. And to get page views, you need to write things people want to read and share. And this will be easier if you’re confirming what people want to believe.

So organizations write click-bait headlines, bury the lead, and hope people will react to the less than truthful part of the story, for the sake of more eyeballs and misinformation.

But that’s a real problem because organizations need to make money to operate and still make good quality content. So what do we do?

Find a Better Revenue Stream

This one is tough, because if not ads, then what? You’ll get people who want to fund you with “quid pro quo” money or memberships that have the same effect. “We’re paying you, so write what we want you to write.”

Get Government Funding

Do you really think this one will happen? And if it does, how many people will actually trust it?

We Need to Form Better Habits

The only real solution to combat Fake News is to make smarter people, and there’s no quick fix for that. We need to take our current process:

  1. See Headline
  2. React
  3. Share

And change it to this:

  1. See Headline
  2. Read Article
  3. React
  4. Research
  5. Share

I know that asks a lot, but what I’m really getting at is this:

Train yourself to be a skeptic.

Most importantly, we need to start (if we haven’t already) teaching this sort of critical thinking in schools, from a young age. I’m not saying make kids cynical, but critical thinking is important in an age of information overload and opinions flying as freely as pollen in the springtime. We need to show them how to read and research, and to do that we’ll need to practice what we preach.

*I didn’t separately research this. Could be fake!

Some Thoughts on Fake News that You’ll Never Believe! was originally published in Thoughts from Joe Casabona on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.