Editor’s Column: Step away from the fake news

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There’s a kerfuffle afoot about the prevalence of “fake news,” particularly in social media (which is where 62 percent of U.S. adults get their news nowadays). Unfortunately, as we’ve all been told all our lives, you can’t believe everything you read. You can’t even believe everything you see anymore, what with video and photo editing and computer generated imagery.
But we shouldn’t pretend this is new. We just used to call it by a different name: propaganda.
Propaganda is defined as “information that is not impartial and used primarily to influence an audience and further an agenda.” This is accomplished by selectively presenting (or omitting) facts in a way that is designed to produce an emotional reaction. Sound familiar?
One of the earliest instances of propaganda is generally considered to be the Behistun Inscription (c. 515 BC), which detailed the rise of Darius I to power in Persia. In a nutshell, Darius himself is the author of the inscription, written in multiple languages on a limestone cliff along a road connecting two Persian capitals, and recounting how wonderful Darius the Great was, and how all the rebellions he had put down were the work of imposters to the throne. Gee whiz. There really isn’t anything new under the sun.
Interestingly, the development of the printing press was the birth of a whole new era of propaganda, which influenced the Reformation, the American Revolution, and the abolitionist movement during the Civil War. Basically, every war ever fought has been accompanied by an onslaught of propaganda, whether engraved into the side of a cliff, dropped as leaflets from airplanes, or spread virally via scam news websites. What’s its purpose? To control the “collective mind” of a group of people. It’s insidious, sneaky and generally underhanded. It’s the stuff of Orwellian dystopian fiction.
And we’re being bombarded by it today, maybe more than ever. We’re all going to have to become a lot more skeptical and a lot more media savvy, not just when it comes to social media. A lot of what floats around on the internet finds its way to mainstream media without benefit of fact-checking.
Speaking of fact-checking, did you know there is an International Fact-Checking Network, and its members all agree to abide by a code of principles? You can check out the list, and the code, here: www.poynter.org/fact-checkers-code-of-principles/
Some of this fake news (propaganda) nonsense is politically inspired, as always. But a lot of it is just plain, old greed. Some of these fake-news proprietors are making between $10,000 and $30,000 a month selling ads on their sites.
Sometimes it makes me wonder if I’m on the wrong side of the news business, wanting to tell the truth and all…
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After a blissfully long and mild fall, it would appear that Jack Frost has finally arrived. Temperatures next week are expected to drop below zero at night. Let’s hope Jack’s late arrival doesn’t indicate his intention to hang around late next spring.
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Welcome to the merry month of December. Get out this week and next and enjoy some of the local holiday events: concerts, plays, business open houses, parades, sleigh rides, visits with Santa, etc. Set aside all the arguing and contention and go enjoy the spirit of the season with your friends and neighbors!