How do I avoid becoming a victim of Fake News?
by Kevin Walker, TurtleWise founder
In light of the unique political environment we Americans find ourselves in at this moment in history, I feel compelled to write this blog on Fake News. The truth should ALWAYS matter and therefore it is imperative that each and every one of us is armed with a dogged desire and a finely-tuned ability to discern between truth, spin and outright lies.
My advice on doing so is as follows and is taken from wise sayings that my grandfather shared with our family throughout his life. This is a pretty long piece so maybe it isn’t used in a blog format or at least not all at once. Let me know your thoughts on content and use cases. Thanks.
1. “Make sure that you consider the source” — Journalistic and intellectual rigor, objectivity, integrity, history, motives and financial entanglements all influence the credibility of a source and impact where they fall on the “truth meter”. We should take the time to analyze these issues in reference any source.
2. “Everybody cant be wrong” — While this is not always true, it oft times is. If the position of the source is in the minority as it relates to the full body of evidence and reporting (which means in and of itself that you have consulted multiple sources), it might be suspect or even fake news…
3. “The facts are the facts” — Facts Matter! Some would lead you to believe that there is no such thing as facts but that notion is patently false. The facts are truly the facts. The interpretation of those facts vary. Even these interpretations should be informed by facts as opposed to feelings. If you are being led to believe by a source that there is no such thing as facts or that facts are open to interpretation, then you are being mislead. (ex. “It is a fact that Johnny kicked Sally but I believe it was an accident as he was in the act of kicking a soccer ball when Sally abruptly came from Johnny’s blind-side and got in between him and the ball without time for him to stop his forward momentum.” This is a pretty factual representation where even the interpretation of it being an accident is backed up by fact. Fake news would say that either he never kicked Sally or if they acknowledge that he did kick her, they would say that they are certain that it was an accident because Johnny is a good kid or Sally deserved it, or it wasn’t such a bad kick or everyone gets kicked from time to time or something else not fact based and aimed at supporting a narrative.)
4. “What’s in it for you?” — This saying encourage us to look at the motives of the source and what they have to gain. It also encourages us to look at our own motives to determine what preconceived position we hold and how open we are to hearing from sources that challenge that position. Credible reports should lead us to conclusions or objectively prove or disprove our going in theory.
5. “Be weary of Politician” — My grandfather didn’t have much admiration for politicians, mostly because he believed that they could talk the average person into or out of anything. He believed that they are in a unique position to “spin” and are very good at it. Their egos, insulation and naivety makes it difficult to really see the core of the person and know their true motives. In modern times, as political goals have become more about power, re-elections and individual constituency agendas versus the greater good, politicians have become even less trustworthy than they were in my grandfather’s era. It is important to hold them accountable and to challenge their assertions and actions.
6. “Don’t just follow any person blindly but instead look for proof and get a second opinion” — This was my grandfather’s equivalent of Reagan’s “Trust but verify”. He warns not to put blind faith in any person, media outlet, organization, country or political party. At best, everyone is fallible and at worst, they are trying to manipulate their audience.
7. “Don’t be lazy” — In a nutshell, we should all fight the urge to embrace convenience, expedience or quick fix solutions. Take the time and invest the intellectual rigor into things that matter. The concept echoes what I learned at West Point about choosing the harder right over the easier wrong. Apathy, insulation, isolation or living in an echo-chamber are all breeding grounds for fake news.
8. “Worry about yourself” — We should all focus on improving our own weaknesses and vulnerability vs. obsessing about those in others, unless our very job is to hold others accountable. In these cases, we should do both. Introspection and self-reflection is a necessary and good thing.
9. “A bee sting is not the same as a gunshot wound” — This is a basic caution to beware of false equivalencies The man who stole a loaf of bread shouldn’t be held in the same level of contempt as the person who physically abused their spouse to near death over a lifetime. Use a relativity scale as opposed to lumping events and characteristics into the same pot.
10. “You haven’t met them all when you meet one” — Here, my grandfather is advising to guard against over generalizations. Being led to believe things like all liberals are fiscally irresponsible or all conservatives are weak on the social compact between citizen and government is untrue. Related to this idea is the notion that just because a news source promotes a position and found one other person who supports the same position doesn’t mean that its true. Statistics matter as well. Watch the sources that come up with universal, always positions (i.e. Obama is always X or Military leaders are always Y). They are more likely to be supporting an overall narrative than reporting the facts.
11. “Don’t argue when people show you who they are” — Believe what people show you about themselves. We should audit our sources and keep a tally of their record of accuracy and validity. If they have told me something that is proven to be false later, do they explain what happened? Do they acknowledge the mistake? Do they commit to be more rigorous in their fact finding? Do they commit these types of infractions often?.
12. “Keep and open mind” — Be open to other truths. A Person should continually evaluate ones own belief system in earnest in order to deepen ones understanding and resolve to confirmed truths and to modify or release unconfirmed untruths.
13. “What makes you so smart?” Often times, “experts” are used by news sources to bolster the credibility of a claim. We should always ask, are the so called experts objective experts in their field or are they experts because the source says they are? If the answer to this is unknown, there is probably a reason and this fact alone should make you suspicious or at least cause you to seek corroboration of the claim.
14. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water” — This point is really designed as encouragement to compromise. Every good relationship worth being in for the long-term (multi-period negotiations) has to have some elements of compromise. When it doesn’t, the discussion quickly devolves to how to hurt the other person the most or who’s the most powerful which leads to either nothing getting done or sub-optimal solutions being enacted.
15. “Words matter” — If someone is using incendiary language that is offensive, mean-spirited, divisive, and bullying its mostly because they are insecure, not thoughtful and are only speaking to a certain subset of Americans. This extreme bias and intellectual dishonesty typically leads to strong passions both for and against the source or the position. This in-turn encourages otherwise reasonable people to act out of emotion versus a combination of emotion and intellect.
Kevin Walker is the founder of TurtleWise.net