The antidote to “Fake News”

Before the acrimony of the last two years, I always enjoyed sharing the Washington Post’s Caitlin Dewey’s roundup of what was fake on the internet that week.

As someone who can at times be a bit too trusting/gullible and has definitely fallen for a few hoaxes and urban legends before, it always fascinated me how these things spread and get repeated, often without us even thinking twice about it. Things like that Dutch airlines dog who tracks down people to return items they left on the airplane …

(Fake, created as a marketing stunt by KLM Royal Dutch airlines)

Or that urban legend about how many spiders and/or insects you swallow in your sleep over your lifetime …

(Fake, started by a columnist who wrote about how people will believe anything on the internet, including her own list of ridiculous “facts”, one of which was the spider thing)

And more insidious things like certain conspiracy theories that continue to evolve and take on a life of their own:


Now that the term “Fake News” has become so heated and political, I would like to share what I think is the very best method for combating it: Take a break from the Internet.

I love Snopes as much as the next person (and it is a VERY good resource for finding out which things are urban legends and which things have a basis in fact), but the truth is, the more we try to argue with people online and “debunk” or “correct” their seemingly preposterous or ridiculous (to us, anyway) views, the stronger they believe the thing you were trying to debunk and the more polarized our echo chambers become.

So what can we do? We can get off of our smartphones/computers and start interacting with people in real life. Volunteer. Go to town hall meetings. Get to know your neighbors. Listen to their unique life experiences. Venture outside of your comfort zone: Outside of your church, your social class, people who look like you…

As part of one of the first generations to grow up with the Internet and who is used to primarily interacting with friends online (even in high school we spent all hours of the day chatting on MSN messenger and pouring out our teen angst on LiveJournal), it has taken me a surprisingly long time to finally come to this realization. Technology is a tool, and can be a powerful means to an end, but the only significant difference we can make is in Real Life.

So, the next time you feel powerless, frustrated, or like you have no idea what’s real or fake anymore, try logging off and getting to know someone in person.

~leaves to go take my own advice~

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