Real News vs. Fake News: Who Gets to Decide?

What is fake news?After watching a segment of Last Week Tonight on “fake news sites,” I began to feel uneasy. I agree, of course, that the recent explosion of click-bait news sites is an issue — and it’s especially problematic when those pages are deceptively-titled or reporting stories they know to be false. During the election season, it was a daily duty of mine as a citizen-journalist to call out fake stories that had gotten mixed in with the rest of the news-feed — in fact, these sites were so widespread on social media that most of their domain-names have been burned into my memory by repetition. That is certainly a problem — but sometimes solutions can be even more dangerous.

Shortly after I’d watched John Oliver’s segment, the major media-outlets picked up on it and I began overhearing strangers discussing the issue of “fake news sites” in the cafe (where I write the majority of these articles). Then — at the top of one of my numerous custom RSS-feeds — I spotted a headline that read, “Facebook & Google Crack Down on Fake News Sites” — and that’s when I knew I had to speak out.

Fake News or Real News:
Who gets to decide?

Zuckerberg's plan to fight "fake news" on Facebook
Facebook declares war on “fake news”

A list of “False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical “News” Sources”  was making the rounds on Facebook and, when I first saw the list, it already had 10k+ shares. The list has since been taken down to be “expanded” on a better platform than GoogleDocs. It included many sites I know to be deceptive, like “USA Supreme” & “Empire News,” but some of the entries I found to be pretty alarming — like Upworthy, a compiler of uplifting news-stories.

Even more concerning, however, was the inclusion of conservative websites, including Breitbart & Info Wars. Of course, I personally believe that those websites’ analysis of current events is often mistaken, to put it lightly — but the fact that, as a socialist, I strongly disagree with their ideologies does not mean that I question the sincerity of their perspective.

There is an extremely important difference between a website which offers a perspective I disagree with and a website that is deliberately reporting sensational falsehoods to generate ad revenue.

Fake news black-list
Here are some screen-captures of the “fake” news black-list — I was unable to find all the puzzle pieces, but this ought to give you a good idea. Highlights & arrow are *not* mine.

If You Value Independent Media,
Do Not Advocate for Censorship

Upworthy, Info Wars, & Breitbart weren’t the only sincere websites that were targeted as “fake,” either — those are just the sites that I immediately recognized as not-fake. Kira Davis, in an article published on Red State (which was also listed), writes:

[The list] includes conservative media giants IJReview, The Blaze, and Redstate – all organizations that provide aggregate reporting and opinion pieces. Having worked for all three organizations at one point or another, I can say with full certainty that not one is a ‘fake news’ site – or even misleading.

Who gets to draw the line, here? Google? Facebook — ? Who should we trust to decide whether a website or a journalist is wrong?

When I saw those outspokenly right-wing sites on the list, I thought to myself — “will I ever see my website on one of these lists?” Another “fake” news site on the list was Inquisitr, a site which aggregates popular news articles from other websites — including this one! Will I ever be targeted as a “fake news” site and will Facebook, Google, or other powerful internet companies someday stifle my voice?

Websites Ought to Have the Right to Be Incorrect

CNN story on "fake news"
I bet I could carve out a journalistic niche solely writing ironic articles about CNN’s nearly adorable hypocrisy…

Less than a month ago, I caught CNN writing a deceptive story and I still haven’t called the thought police on them — instead, I wrote an article challenging that deception. During the primaries, I caught the New York Times reporting percentages that were mathematically incorrect — rather than insisting that Facebook ought to protect the internet from having to think, I called them out on it by showing the correct math & then incited hundreds to tweet my article at them until they changed the numbers. Which, by the way, they did.

In my own humble (yet frequently accurate) opinion, CNN, MSNBC, & other so-called “real” news-outlets, which have been caught dispensing party propaganda for the political elite, are much more concerning than outlets like “The Reporterz” & “USA Supreme.” But I refuse to call for them to be silenced because that doesn’t address the real issue, which is that US citizens aren’t generally well-informed.

And that can only be solved by education.

Censorship is Bad
But Critical Thinking is Good

Advocating for corporations, like Facebook or Google, to cleanse our search results & social media of “fake” news would not only open the door to ideological purges of the internet, which could easily target independent media & journalists (like me!) — it would also produce a stupid public. A public that trusts “experts” to decide what’s real or fake, what’s true, what’s false, which ideas are wrong, who deserves to speak — & who to be silenced.

Therefore, on behalf of independent media everywhere — on behalf of myself — I beg all of you to reject this wolf in sheep’s clothing. Do not give this power to these companies — no one, no company, no individual, should be trusted with the power to think for you, except for you.

Empower People w/ Knowledge!
Censorship is Unnecessary

Fake news will never trick people who know how to think critically! In that spirit, here are some basic guidelines for deciding which stories are likely to be accurate:

  • Does the article cite sources? This is the golden rule of all research! Most articles cite sources with in-line links (like this one) but some use footnotes or lists at the end. Unless the author witnessed what happened (theyre the source), they must cite sources. And remember to check the sources’ sources, too. No sources = no good! 
  • How believable does the article sound? In general, the crazier it sounds, the more convincing the sources should be. If it’s something like “Secretary of State Holds a Press Conference,” a single video or a credible website will do but, if a headline reads “Aliens Destroy White House with Lazers,” it ought to have very convincing sources. In other words, pics or it didn’t happen!
  • Are other articles confirming or denying the storyGoogle it. It’s usually a good sign when other credible sites agree (no, USA Supreme doesn’t count!) but you should also check for credible sites that deny it. Two conflicting stories? You’ll have to use reasoning to determine which is accurate — always be suspicious of the story you want to be true!
  • If all else fails, reach out to others. Ask your friends, message the author, be creative — whatever you do, don’t post articles that you’re not reasonably sure are accurate!

There’s a lot of misinformation out there in the world, that much is true — but a lot of it can come from sources that are widely trusted and independent journalism is basically the public’s only line of defense. So, please — help us by speaking out against censorship in whatever form, even if it’s against those we don’t often agree with. Thanks for reading.

In solidarity,
John Laurits

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The Land Beneath the Pipeline (11/8)
Ohio Outlaws Citizen-Led Exit-Polling & Election Observation (11/4)
The US Media is as Guilty as the Police at Standing Rock
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Progressives, Greens, & Berniecrats: Unify or the Movement Will Break
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Kshtramsaya
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extremes meet; all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled

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