brighter than sunshine

The “List of Fake News” Problem

Trigger warning: I talk about abortion. A lot.

Emma Lindsay
Nov 27, 2016 · 8 min read

I recently shared a story on facebook that seems to be fake. However… I’m a little bit worried in declaring it fake, because I didn’t find a fact check on that particular article. What happened was (in response to my question “is this real?” when sharing the article) someone pointed out that the source was on the list of fake news articles.

(For the curious, it was this article here on how Trump’s lead in Wisconsin was decreasing before the recount. Why was I lured into it? It was boring enough that it didn’t hit my original radar for “obviously fake,” but was related to questions I’ve been thinking about — is the recount in Wisconsin worth it? Is this just a bunch of democrats whining? Could there be real corruption going on?)

Anyway: what list did I use to declare the story wrong? I used this Daily Dot list compiled by professor Melissa Zimdars of Merrimack College. So, what’s concerning about this?

Well, I’ve never heard of the Daily Dot, nor Melissa Zimdars, nor Merrimack College. So… why the hell should I trust their list of fake news sights? Have I just used a fake news site to declare another news site fake?

Even more concerning, is the list itself seems highly partisan. After the election, I started following a few more conservative outlets on facebook to broaden my feed. And, the drudge report reposted this opinion article from The Washington Times:

Here’s a quote from the article:

Take for example a story reported by the Los Angeles Times that included a professor who put together a Google document of “false, misleading, clickbait-y and satirical ‘news sources’” to help people “cleanse their newsfeeds of misinformation.”

The only problem with the list, was it included real news sites of which the professor simply didn’t agree. Conservative blogs, including Red State and The Blaze, were on the list, as was more centrist, but GOP-leaning Independent Journal Review (IJR). None of those sites are fake — they often just peddle in the real news purposely not covered by the mainstream media.

Using fake news against opposing views

Well.. shit. The list The Washington Times calls out is actually the list I used to declare my site false— and, as it turns out, it also lists as fake my favorite new conservative news sites which is The Blaze. To be fair, I just started reading The Blaze a few weeks ago, and there may be some terrible thing in there I’m missing. But… for the most part, it seems to just put forth a conservative opinion which is opinion not news.

Now, I don’t *agree* with most of the opinion put forth in The Blaze. However, I haven’t (so far) seen them list a fact that was an incorrect fact. And, that’s what I mean when I say “fake news” — you have to list a fact that didn’t really happen. If you gave an opinion that was unpopular, that is not fake news.

Here’s an unpopular opinion (at least in my circles) that I read on The Blaze that broadened my horizons — it was on defunding planned parenthood. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love planned parenthood. I volunteered there for a summer, and if the government does defund planned parenthood, I will probably start personally donating to them.

However. They made a few good points in their article. One was the claim no government money goes to abortion:

As for the “tax money doesn’t go to abortion” claim, that’s like dumping water into one side of a wading pool and declaring that it isn’t meant for the other side. Water is water. Money is money. Money is fungible. If the government funds everything except for the abortions, it has clearly funded the abortions by freeing up the funds that would otherwise have to go to the other things.

Commentary: OK, Republicans, now you can defund Planned Parenthood. No excuses.

Like… yeah, I sort of wondered about that to myself a little bit when I was volunteering, but forgot about it after a while. Like, if you’re funding everything except abortions with the government money, doesn’t that mean you have more money from donations to help with abortions? Sort of makes sense to me. Here’s another quote:

If you’re smart, you’ll remind the hysterical left that Planned Parenthood gets around 500 million dollars in federal funds and Hillary Clinton got about 60 million votes. Doing the math, if each Hillary voter simply donated 10 bucks a year to the abortion giant, that would more than make up for the loss. If Planned Parenthood really went bankrupt — which would be one of the most glorious events in human history — it will be because its supporters decided not to forgo a few lattes in order to keep their favorite abortion retailer open.

Now, I give them zero marks for diplomatic phrasing, but their point made me realize if we defund planned parenthood, it will be important for me to take more of personal contribution. I appreciated their message of personal responsibility, which is a notably conservative ideal. So, note to self, donate at least $10/yr to planned parenthood if they get defunded.

So… I’m glad I read that article. Although, I have to say, it was hard to read because I *do* have strong feelings against the pro life movement because of my time volunteering with Planned Parenthood. I used to volunteer at their main center in Boston where a shooting had taken place 10 years earlier. There were protestors outside the clinic every day, and it was scary to walk through them whenever you remembered these people hate me so much, they might try to kill me. They would shout things at me like “it’s a boy! it’s a boy!” and it took me a moment to realize they thought I was pregnant and getting an abortion. For the record, while I was volunteering at Planned Parenthood, my job was to stand on the side of the street and give people condoms. That was it. I’ve also been to Planned Parenthood many times for health care, and I’ve never had an abortion. Just gynecological exams, and blood tests.

And, that’s normal, btw. Most people entering that clinic were not getting abortions but we all got shouted at just the same; I think a lot of anti abortion people forget most of planned parenthood’s services are not abortions. They have all sorts of health care there. The reason I really like Planned Parenthood is that they are nice people who have given me, and some of my friends, good healthcare when we needed it. Sometimes, when we needed it badly and had no one else to turn to.

Unfortunately, it’s not all simple. Want to know something funny I have in common with pro-life people? Abortions are against my religious beliefs too. When I took the Buddhist precepts, the first Buddhist precept is to abstain from taking life. Usually, this means vegetarianism, but it could apply to abortions as well. And, I think it does. However. I have eaten a lot of meat in my life. There are times, if I’d gotten pregnant, I probably would have had an abortion too (I’ve taken the morning after pill 3 times.) So I in no way want to shame anyone for eating meat or having an abortion. I still eat meat occasionally, and there are some circumstances that I might still have an abortion as well.

But, I believe we need to move to a society where we eat less meat, and I believe we need to move to a society where we have fewer abortions. To me personally, it seems ethically bizarre that some of the most pro-life people are also the most anti-vegetarianism. That these issues have a partisan split seems tied to a deeper dysfunction in American society without a consistent ethical underpinning.

Personally, as a technologist, I believe they may both have technological solutions. Ultimately, I believe better, more reliable birth control will solve the abortion problem. And, ultimately, I believe tastier artificial meats will solve the meat problem. These are the directions I think we as a society should focus the efforts. Defunding reproductive care is a step backward in getting better birth control, which is the deep reason I oppose these kinds of budget cuts. Even if we reduced abortion in the short run, the simple fact is, overpopulation is a thing and if we don’t develop good birth control, people will eventually turn to abortion as their only option safe or not, legal or not, when it becomes too expensive to raise children anymore.

And yet, there is no real room for these sort of nuanced beliefs in our current system. I can read liberal arguments about how “no tax money goes to abortion” which seems disingenuous, or I can read conservative pieces on how Planned Parenthood is an abortion factory, which it’s not (I was there, I saw it with my own eyes.) But, what is the truth? How do we see the truth, or find it?

This is a very hard problem.

That original list of fake articles had a liberal bias, but you’ll be happy to know Ron Paul apparently created a conservative list of “fake news” sites (here) with a conservative bias. When I saw The Huffington Post on that list I was sort of like… yeah, I can see that. They did give Hildog a 98% chance of winning the election. So, now we all basically know what news “the other side” will be ignoring.

Which brings me to my main question: what’s our bigger problem, fake news, or the fact that we have a deeply divided America? I’m more inclined to think the latter, and our attempt to fix the first may be exacerbating the divide. We have no space to come together, to form nuanced opinions from the extremes. As a teenager, I was neither pro life nor pro choice (for reasons that were consistent with my vegetarianism at the time — much like today.) However, after the harassment I’ve witnessed at abortion clinics, after reading incendiary conservative dismissal of reproductive care, after meeting people whose friends who died at the hands of pro life extremists, pro life people just seemed mean. I don’t want to be like them, and for years I was pro choice just to not be pro life.

And, I’m sure, pro choice people seem mean to many pro life people. I’m sure many pro life people can’t imagine how someone could justify killing a baby. Though, if you have this trouble I ask you — do you eat meat, and if so, how do you justify it? Why is it different to abortion? I’m guessing on some level, it just comes down to dismissing animal life as less important than human life. In a similar way, pro choice people dismiss fetal life as less important than adult life — and they have logical reasons for it (fetuses have less intelligence, at points in the pregnancy they do not have the capacity to feel pain, and may not have the same conscious will to live as adults do.) However, I personally believe none of us have the right to determine the end of life for another sentient being. Unfortunately, we have built a society where it is damn near impossible not to kill someone, so I don’t believe in blaming individuals for being the one who does the killing. I believe in rebuilding society so we don’t have to kill so much.

But, how the fuck are we ever going to build this society if we can’t even read the same news?

Emma Lindsay

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