A Partial Solution to Fake News and Editorial Opinion

Our global society has embraced a post-truth world. Authoritarian regimes like Russia, North Korea et al, have used disinformation tactics to control the messaging with Vladimir Putin being the most adroit abuser extending well beyond his borders. Yet, we have embraced disinformation and misinformation full bore in the US with our over-usage of fake news sights and purveyors of editorials disguised as news. And, too many politicians, especially our President-elect, seem to be less concerned with facts and truth than winning an argument.

Our media is also culpable as they need to do a better job of questioning politicians and holding them accountable when they misuse the truth. Contrary to what the President-elect believes, the mainstream media enabled his election by not questioning him more and reviewing his history.

The fake news sites and editorialists who have huge TV and radio followings are successful and getting their message out. They are so successful, they have no problems selling their advertising slots, which is unfortunate.

The dilemma is we are so uninformed in our country, unless an item is entertaining or ultra-provocative, too many will not take the time to listen to or read it. This is contrary to the issues and possible solutions  which cannot easily be communicated in a sexy sound bite and still have veracity. They often have multiple causes that get overlooked as they are reduced to one cause and a bumper sticker solution.

So, since we cannot change the messenger and only hope we can change the patterns of the listener and reader, here is a partial solution that might help.

If a website or purported news site has an accuracy rate of less than 75%, they need to print in bold or as a banner across the screen at least once every fifteen minutes that this site is to be viewed as entertainment and not news. I think Politifacts and Factcheck.org could expand their scope to aid in this cause. In fact, I would suggest a formal audit on a quarterly basis on top of routine checking of news accuracy.

As for our editorialists who make a living revving up their followers, I think each should be required to state every fifteen minutes that what is being discussed is editorial opinion and not news. This should be required of all opinion shows, even the reputable ones. Yet, it should be made perfectly clear that what is being espoused is not fact and is clearly opinion.

Will these requirements change behavior? Maybe. The key is to prevent organizations who lie for a living from being able to identify themselves as news organizations.   This would also require more reputable, but still biased sources to make sure they meet the 75% requirement. Some news organizations would have trouble meeting this requirement.

Otherwise, it will remain difficult for people to verify if a source is not newsworthy. We can do little about those who read or watch a source that verifies what they already believe. I am encouraged that subscription rates for The Washington Post and New York Times have increased. The Washington Post did some of the best reporting on the election, but was not read or repeated enough in other mainstream media.

Is this important, yes? Will this requirement help, maybe. But, we have to do something. Regardless of this action, we each must ask more of our leaders and news sources and look to more reputable sources.




26 thoughts on “A Partial Solution to Fake News and Editorial Opinion

  1. I also think educators have a responsibility to teach vulnerable minds about discernment. Doesn’t look like this trend is going to end anytime soon.

  2. I heard a discussion last night on NPR (where else?) about the prevalence of fake news and the people (often teenagers) in foreign countries who are earning money by reposting these “news” articles. I can’t remember the name of the place, but a huge percentage of the postings come from this one little area. The posters are not interested in the politics of it all, they have just found a way to make money.It is horrifying and shameful how many of our citizens read, believe, and share this crap.

    • Janis, I think they are from Macedonia. You are right, they are making money off our gullibility and being uninformed. They probably laugh at us all the way to the bank. Keith

      • Arnold Toynbee once said that thinking is as difficult for humans as talking on two legs is for a monkey and that we do as little of it as possible — especially when we are most comfortable. Or words to that effect!

      • Hugh, we certainly do not do enough it. Back to our old friend Aristotle who noted we are creatures of habit, much of our life is conducted by habits, where thinking is minimized. It is the breaking out of those routines that is sorely needed. Instead of having a phony news website icon on our phone, we need to remove it and replace it with Reuters, PBS Newshour, etc. That will replace a bad habit with a better one. Keith

  3. Great idea! I have a hard time believing our new president and his minions will have any interest in proposing or enforcing such an idea. I have tried to teach my students how to distinguish fake news from real news. However, some of them know so little about the world that they don’t really have the tools to make informed decisions.

  4. It is funny. Jessica Savitch was a pioneer in broadcasting for women. She was one of the reasons I was fighting so hard for the journalism program to start up at the University of Regina here in Canada. I wanted to be like her. However, it was this same journalist that made me question my choice of career when I saw her corner a candidate at one of the presidential conventions years ago. He had just been “outed” as having an affair in front of not only the entire delegation but the entire world. His wife and everyone who supported him were blind-sided as was he. Savitch stuck a microphone in his face and asked if he really thought he could get by without this news getting out. The guy was ruined but she wanted to twist the dagger one more time.

    It was then that I realized that the media could play as dirty as the politicians.

    • Lydia, the media can show poor judgment. On the flip side, they can add value. I witnessed an onterviewer appropriately push back on an Alt Right leader who led the Nazi salute to Trump. The lesser said it was just in fun and did not mean anything. The interviewer noted words and actions matter saying when a Jewish reporter criticized your actions, you sent him a picture of an oven from a Nazi camp. Keith

      • Lydia, you made an informed judgment. My guess is good journalists question often if they accelerated when they should have braked. They need to get it right, but be fair. The movie “Absence of Malice” comes to mind. Keith

  5. I don’t think what we are experiencing is new in any way other than the scale of it. The internet has taken everything about the media and exponentially magnified it. So, we have a lot more access to information, but that information is not always good. We have always had “yellow journalism” and propaganda, but now it is easy to get that propaganda to millions in very little time. It used to only be legitimate publications that had that kind of reach. With freedom of speech comes responsibility and I agree with V.J. above is right, we have to teach our consumers of information to be more literate and discerning. I am having my students start the semester next year by reading this essay that I think captures that responsibility: https://shar.es/18L4HB

    • There is no question whatever that consumers are easily taken in and cannot distinguish between truth and fiction, in a great many cases. Better work in the classrooms is certainly something that would help. But the problem in the media has escalated and a difference own degree can become a difference in kind at some point.

    • Thanks for the sharing this article with me and your students. I am also glad Hugh responded below, as he has written on this topic in his past several posts and being a former college philosophy professor he echoes your concerns. As I shared on his post, I read editorial columnists that I more often than not disagree – Charles Krauthammer, Cal Thomas, George Will, etc. My favorite conservative writers are more moderate and even-handed like Michael Gerson and David Brooks.

      My point echoes yours in that how are we supposed to learn if we limit ourselves to people telling us what we want to hear or what we believe? If you listen to some writers and radio hosts, e.g., you could come away with the belief that everyone on food stamps is a drug addict and/ or is abusing the system. That could not be further from the truth as supported by real data, but that is what is believed by too many.

      We must pay attention to real news and read and listen to as many legitimate points of view. If someone is civil and willing to share their thoughts, I am willing to listen. If someone is smug and shouts over dissent, then I will likely be less willing to listen.

      To your point about the internet making an existing problem worse, I often use this example. People know enough not to engage in conversation with a street speaker, as they tend to be more fervent than the average person. I tell people to never argue with a street preacher. Yet, online that filter is gone, so every fervent person can find a group that supports that fervor. So, extreme beliefs can become normative to these folks and reasonable discourse becomes the exception. To me, that is why these fake news sites make money.

      Sorry for the long-winded answer, but your points ring so true.

  6. I knew we were in trouble the day a grown man insisted that a Meme, generated by who knows, was factual. There is not enough Calgon on the planet to “take us away” from this nonsense.
    There is also a very large, lazy audience out there who prefer to believe that Memes are not only factual, but that they are in some way N E W S.

      • Lisa, it is apparent that our President-elect will govern with little regard for the truth. Or, to be fair, it will be secondary to selling his message. Just the past few days, to belittle the CIA findings, he said the President should have brought this up before the election if it was a concern – that is an untruthful statement as the President did and the President-elect knows this.

        It is hard enough to govern with real information and telling painful truths. Ignoring the truth as a tactic makes it more difficult to get to the right answer. So, when he cites incorrect information, legitimate news sources should do what they are doing more of saying this statement has been proven to be false.

        I keep it simple. Since his career has revealed, per his biographers and people who worked for him, that he cares little about the truth, coupled with Politifacts measuring he was untruthful far more than any Presidential candidate since they began measuring in 2007, my premise is to not believe a word he says and watch his actions. The odds are in my favor in so doing.

        Thanks, Keith

  7. Note to Readers: Facebook is pursuing a course along these lines seeking fact checking help, one of the groups mentioned being Politifacts. It is TBD on how this might work, but apparently they recognize their obligation to help people be better news consumers.

  8. Note to Readers: Apparently, our President-elect will continue to use Twitter to utter his immediate reaction to world events, which does not bode well given his poor temperament and poor understanding of global issues and insensitivities. He is receiving a lot of grief over misspelling “unprecedented” today, but the larger point is when you type what you think without a filter, mistakes happen. An uninformed reaction is often not the best one,

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