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The Death of Fake News: A Quest for the Holy Grail

It’s nearly every day I see the hashtag “Fake News” popping up on one social network feed or another. No news source is safe from the claim, and the more I’ve heard friends/political pundits bitch about it, the more I felt compelled to write about it. Now this may come as a shock to some, but “Fake News” is not a recent trend. It is just amplified nowadays with open comment sections and instant social sharing via the Internets. Not to play Aristotle or Plato, but perhaps the better question to ask is: did True News ever exist?

Power of the Written Word

sumerian records, history of language, ancient written word
Good ol’ Sumerian Newspapers…war anyone?

So, let’s take a trip back in time. With the birth of the written word (shout out to the Sumerians!), mankind was finally able to disseminate ideas and “facts” beyond earshot. Being able to receive information/records from beyond one’s immediate surroundings, created a sense of credibility in the recipient’s mind. If it made it this far, then it must be true! Look, it’s written down.

But this “credibility” isn’t even worth the papyrus it’s printed on – it’s a ruse, nothing more. There has always been a SINGLE fundamental flaw with the wet dream of journalistic integrity, one that will always exist alongside the evolution of how we receive our information (from print to internet podcast to 4k 3D Virtual Reality).

The Rhetorical Problem

greek philosophers, rhetorical problem, ancient sculptures
From the glorious beards, so flows forth the knowledge.

I can see you’re already dozing off from my ranting. “Ok guy, who writes for money. Enough of the rambling – what’s the flaw?” Well, I’m glad you asked. It’s simple: the human element and the desire to persuade (i.e. rhetoric).

Behind each article, there is an author – a living-breathing conscious creature. Humans have emotions. They have beliefs; driving forces to detail specific events or opinions. They have motives; reasons to manipulate data and conduct biased research to strengthen their inherent argument. They have audiences; targeted people they know will read their ideas/stories and thus increase prominence (or in this modern day and age: ad revenue).

It’s easy to grow nostalgic and think True News existed back before the 24/7 digital news cycle (thanks CNN) and the global spread of social media. But why do you feel this nostalgia, my friend?

Perhaps because it appeared once daily in the form of a newspaper, and the only form of a comments section was in the letters to the editor? Or perhaps it’s because the household would huddle around the rabbit ears nightly as your family ate TV dinners, listening to “unbiased” news anchors disseminate information? Don’t get me wrong, the lack of availability gave pre-internet news an air of credibility (i.e. Brian Wiliams, etc. etc.), mostly because you had to wait for it and there was no other option. Yet, the fundamental problem still existed: at one point, a human being put their grubby little paws on it.

Damned if you do…

artificial intelligence, social feed filtering,
Beep bop boop. This flower triggers me. Filter from feed. Beep bop boop.

I hate to think where that leads us in our quest for unbiased True News. Could Artificial Intelligence be the answer? I, for one, harbor a dystopian fear of computers editing my information, but could that be the only solution to combat the biased human variable?

Bottom line, as technology progresses we may to come to a point where the concept of AI will promise to solve our news problems (just look at Facebook running algorithms for news feeds – I can only guess on which side of the political aisle those filter bots will reside). Perhaps it will work, but I wouldn’t count on it. News feed filtering is a simple solution to a complex problem, only opening Pandora’s Box. It’s somewhat similar to putting out a grease fire with water or 1984’s Newspeak.

Artificial Intelligence, the truly sentient kind, may make the term “Fake News” discardable, but in the grander picture of information dissemination it would be disastrous. Filters would be placed and a single “source” would form. This absolute source would nullify discourse – as not every topic is quantifiably true nor culturally appropriate – and any limit on free speech has never turned out well for the citizenry.

Damned if you don’t…

library, physical books, conducting research
What is this place? I may be lost. Time to google maps my way out of here.

So what can I do, in this day and age of “Fake News”?

Well, it never ceases to amaze me, with all of the information available on the Internets, that most humans are just too lazy (or opinionated) to perform a secondary search on an article before reposting. Simple searches will reveal credible counter arguments to the stories people grow so emotionally convinced by and so vehemently defend in the comments section. Simply put, read the actual article – not just the headline – and find an opposing point of view to challenge the bias. Without this cautious internal discourse, the cycle of “Fake News” will continue with each tidbit a human can “share.”

I guess in all of this rant, what I want to say is this: quit it with the #FakeNews. It’s always been “fake.” Disprove it with counter sources and don’t fall into the ad hominem attacks. You’re not convincing anyone of your truth by getting into a fiery debate on Facebook – nor by just regurgitating your views by sharing an obviously sketchy article.

I remember a successful local news reporter once telling me, “sex, violence and race” sell.  And that’s what they are trying to do: SELL.  I cringed and a part of me died inside when they told me how they chose their stories. I guess we just have to read any source of information with cautious eyes. All news sources have a motive – typically advertising revenue by appealing to their audience.

Finally…What’s Your Point (Hu)Man?

final points, solutions to fake news, finding credible sources
How can I make it all stop?

So what am I really saying in this rant? Just think before you share. Be more cognizant of what you’re putting out there, and challenge your own argument before posting. Perhaps the only antidote for “Fake News,” is to start using your brain. Just be forewarned, this action may lessen the number of news articles on your feed and expose you to more annoying baby pictures. Call me crazy, but I’d rather have more dogs riding skateboards (and snippets of critical truth), if that means less “Fake News.”

What are your thoughts on “Fake News”?  Feel free to destroy my thoughts in the comments section below. Hell, that’s what this whole piece is about – discourse through critique.

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The Author

Travis Mandell

Travis Mandell

Former South Florida Police Officer and Detective. Certified in criminal investigations, narcotics, tactical response and firearms. Now that he is in the private sector, he enjoys his constitutional freedom of speech once more. He's always down for some fishing, motorcycle adventures, or camping in the great outdoors.