What’s Real Anymore?
Ninety percent of the world’s data was generated in the last two years. That’s an insane fact! Internet searches, news publications, text messages, phone calls, social media posts, and millions of other types of content are produced every single second. With all of this content out in the world, competition for our attention has become fierce. Clickbait headlines like “Cuba Claims Justin Trudeau is Fidel Castro’s Son” are now common on the Internet. FYI, Cuba made no such claim. Stories like this are then shared on Facebook and other social media platforms, ultimately helping them go viral.
Efforts to stop the distribution of fake news are being thwarted by the increasing sophistication of the fake news producers. Software now makes it easy to alter images. Instagram and Snapchat filters are relatively harmless when compared to North Korea’s attempts to legitimize their military capabilities through photoshop. These early efforts to spread propaganda will pale in comparison to fake news created with artificial intelligence. Fake videos, or “deep fakes,” are being forged to lead people to believe their politicians are delivering speeches that weren’t ever delivered. The below video was created by a Belgian political party. While the political party hadn’t expected people to believe President Trump would take a stance on Belgian politics, it turned out that thousands of people were fooled:
When it becomes more difficult to distinguish what’s fake from what’s real, we need to better ensure that our sources of news are legitimate.
Trusted Media Outlets
Let’s make one thing clear: getting to the truth is hard and nearly every news publication makes mistakes. I recently wrote about China’s infiltration of American companies’ supply chains, which enabled them to monitor the behavior of American consumers. Bloomberg News, one of my sources for the post, received a ton of push back from Apple, Amazon, and other companies the story alleged China had hacked. What should we believe? Should we trust the accusations, or the denials? Below are a few rules of thumb we can go by to determine how credible a story is:
As time passes, people reach conclusions about what content is good and credible, and what content should be disregarded. As an example, thousands of stories have been written about The Holocaust, yet only one, Man’s Search for Meaning, is considered to be among the greatest books ever written. The book was originally written in 1946 and has since been translated into 24 languages and has sold over 10 million copies. Time helped to lend the book credibility, as millions of people agreed the book was a classic.
The age of media outlets can also help us determine how credible their publications are. Say what you will about The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Miami Herald, but each of these news sources has been around for over a century. Time has showed us that their stories are worth reading and that their messages are trustworthy. Controversial posts on recently created websites should be read with far more skepticism.
Transparency and Corrections
As I mentioned above, nearly every news publication makes mistakes. However, only some publications are transparent about their process of identifying and correcting mistakes. Both The Miami Herald and The New York Times have links to their corrected stories. The news publications’ efforts to amend their factual inaccuracies, spelling mistakes, or other errors build trust between them and their readers. Many trustworthy news outlets are also transparent about their journalist processes. They share the level of rigor that goes into their fact checking efforts, which gives their readers a better sense of the outlet’s level of integrity.
One of the easiest ways of assessing the legitimacy of a publication is to understand the incentive of the writer. What does he or she stand to gain? As an example, a CEO of a container-shipping company argued that Donald Trump’s trade war was ineffective in weaning the U.S. off of Chinese imports. He used his own company’s data to defend his argument. A skeptical reader would recognize that the trade war is hurting the container-shipping company. The CEO therefore has an incentive to try to influence the President. We cannot take what the CEO says at face value because he is clearly biased.
News stories do not improve over time if the writers refuse to solicit feedback from their readers. Some readers are quick to identify problems with a story and ask the writer to improve it. That said, it is not enough for news outlets to merely have comment sections or a hotlines for readers to report issues. They must also investigate these concerns, engage with their readers, and incorporate reader feedback going forward to improve their publications. An open dialogue is essential to the journalistic process.
When we read the news, we shouldn’t necessarily take what we read at face value. Political biases, financial incentives, and other forms of self-interest cause the proliferation of fake news. As preppers, we need to stay up to date on the news, but we need to teach ourselves to question false publications. While it’s difficult to be certain whether a story is true, we can defer to rules of thumb to better assess the credibility of the publisher. Healthy skepticism is how we can survive fake news.
Do you have any other rules of thumb you use to determine the legitimacy of news story? Leave a comment below or contact me directly.