Please Stop Embarrassing Yourselves
Yes, the title of this post is somewhat provocative. One might even say it is a bit ironic, considering my liberal usage of terms like “Secret Society” and “Supernatural.” The goal of this article is not to downplay the very real sinister underbelly of the world in which we live; nor is it an attempt to mock those who believe in supernatural or paranormal phenomena. Rather, I am simply frustrated by those who seem bent on sharing and believing EVERY theory that rolls through their Facebook feed or forum. There are some REALLY obvious errors being made, and I want to make note of them, lest we lose all credibility.
In my past attempts to inject reason into the conspiracy discourse, I’ve been met with the following responses:
- But, that’s what THEY want you to think.
- But, I TRUST this source because it isn’t mainstream.
- But, it IS possible.
- You are disinfo.
- You are cointelpro.
- You are a meanie.
While I am a firm believer that mainstream news is bought and paid for, it isn’t wise to presume that all information gathered outside of what would be termed “mainstream” is valid. Rather, the internet is still somewhat akin to the wild wild west. Anyone can create a blog post or a Facebook status. Often, very well meaning people will report what they believe to be true, without a shred of real evidence to back it up, or they fail to do the necessary research before publishing.
There is also the problem of false stories being created out of very real situations. It is tempting to repeat or share any story that supports our previously determined conclusions. This is just as dangerous as sharing something that is patently false, because it will inevitably be used as fodder for those who wish to discount the entire theory. Here are a couple of examples.
In recent months, I’ve seen a number of stories scroll through my feeds and inbox that instantly raised red flags in my mind. Stories like Reddit Identifies 86-Year-Old Grandmother As Terrorist and Obama to Declare America A ‘Socialist State’. With salacious titles like this, I’m shocked that some people actually shared the articles without taking a moment to consider their veracity. Folks, you cannot simply read the title of an article and presume that is is valid, even if it plays to a theory you already hold to be true.
People shared the Reddit story with comments like, “See. I’ve been saying this for years. No one is safe from being targeted by this out of control police state.” Really? The story is about my fellow North Dakotan Marilyn Hagerty, made famous by her rave review of the Olive Garden. She’s been a staple of the Grand Forks Herald with her charming reviews, and her Olive Garden piece went viral, making her an over night celebrity. She’s since been featured on everything from the Today Show to Top Chef. The article claims that Ms. Hagerty is now in hiding after being accused of having dinner with the two accused Boston Bombing suspects. Really? This story didn’t stink to you? Did you even bother to read it? I can assure you Marilyn is not in hiding, and continues to treat Nodaks with her delightful food reviews and “slice of life” reports.
The second story gives itself away in the first sentence, “A leaked copy of of President Obama’s State of the Union address has revealed plans to declare the United States a socialist nation allied with Fidel Castro’s Cuba.”
What do these two stories have in common? They were both posted on a website called The Daily Currant. It took me approximately .09 seconds to determine that this site is satire. How can I be sure? From their “FAQ” page:
- Q. Are your news stories real?
- A. No. Our stories are purely fictional. However they are meant to address real-world issues through satire and often refer and link to real events happening in the world
They also recently posted a story titled “Pope Benedict Comes Out as Gay.” And yes… a few of my less discerning Facebook friends actually shared this story as though it were fact. Have you ever heard of The Onion? Same thing, but unlike The Onion, The Daily Currant tends to be slightly less obvious with its titles, thus it has been the source of more than a few internet rumors, including a quote they attributed to Sarah Palin claiming that she was running for Pres in 2014. (Ok, that’s a little bit funny)
Steve Bogira posted a great article on the Chicago Reader titled, Parodies lost: why satire must be banned from the Internet. Itself a satire, the article sites some of the funniest and most embarrassing moments in internet spoofs taken seriously. Steve says, “satire must be banned completely from the Internet.” Now, before you claim that Mr. Bogira is a CISPA fan with a desire to see the internet become a virtual police state, read the full paragraph:
No, satire must be banned completely from the Internet. This might not be so great a loss, since satire is so Juvenal. Persons convicted of committing satire on the Web would be fined $25 for the first transgression. For subsequent offenses, they’d be stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled, and eaten in a fricassee or ragout. For though satire is often tasteless, I’m told that satirists themselves are a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food—almost as good as falafel, and less dangerous.
He’s being funny. Next.
The social media age has seen the emergence of a creature previously considered a mere myth. The rise of the noble citizen journalist has been a breath of fresh air amid the canned news and talking heads of the 24 hour news cycle. The greatest thing to happen to modern journalism is that now anyone with a computer can report the news. One of the worst things to happen to modern journalism is that now anyone with a computer can report the news. In fact, it is so easy that some chick from the Midwest with a gift for gab and a penchant for news about aliens and secret societies can create a blog, share her opinions, and actually build a relatively successful brand for herself.
I am endlessly thankful that we still live in a Country where anyone with an opinion is free to opine (mostly), but what I find troubling is how readily folks, particularly conspiracy minded people, will declare a writer to be worthy of praise without bothering to check their facts. One of the biggest sources of confusion comes from the rise of user submitted news sites, such as Before It’s News.
BIN is hub for aspiring news hounds and burgeoning citizen journalists to submit stories that they find to be of interest. There are really no rules as to what can be posted on BIN (none that anyone follows anyway) and the resultant mix of information that spews forth from BIN can be somewhat dubious.
BIN is not comprised of professional news sleuths or reporters hired to get a great scoop. Although one can attain the title of “reporter” on BIN (I myself have earned the distinction with past contributions), and even “Editor” if you’re enough of a go-getter, these titles are somewhat misleading. They are not granted to those who break the most important stories. Really, the only two things needed to be “promoted” on BIN is that you contribute a lot of material and a lot of people read said material.
I have nothing against this business model. I think BIN offers a brilliant service to those who would like a platform for their stories. Unfortunately, it is once again the humble reader who tends to misuse the site. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen folks on Facebook, Twitter and around the web sharing BIN stories and proclaiming that “I get all of my news from Before It’s News” or “BIN is the only news source that I trust.” Do you see how silly this is? How can you put all of your faith in a site that is comprised of probably thousands of unvetted people who are simply required to have a valid email address to contribute a story?
The same scenario exists with sites like Examiner. People treat the Examiner site as a valid news source, when once again it is a user submitted collaborative site whose owners do nothing to ensure the truth of the stories that are contributed. It is a wonderful thing that such sites exist but not everyone who posts an article on BIN or Examiner is trustworthy, so to give everyone who posts under these banners your stamp of approval is irresponsible, particularly if your goal is to enlighten your friends and those with whom you network of the “truth” not found in mainstream news.
Don’t even get me started on Wikipedia. One of the first things I learned as a blogger was to refrain from using Wikipedia as a source. It shocks me how few people seem to understand that while Wiki sites can be very informative, they can also be very WRONG. Am I the only one who scrolls to the bottom of each Wiki entry and actually peruses the cited sources used to compile the Wiki? Whether you’re writing a blog post or engaging in an online debate, Wikipedia should be used as a starting point for research at best. If your entire premise rests on something you found on Wikipedia, you might be in for a rude awakening.
So, why am I being such a hater? I don’t think I am. I truly LOVE the fact that the internet affords all people the ability to pontificate about matters that are important in their worldview. I take advantage of this fact every single time I post an article on this very site. I’ve used sites like BIN to share my stories. And I certainly do not claim that everything I’ve ever written or shared is the height of journalistic excellence. I’ve done my fair share of speculating, and I’m positive I’ve screwed up from time to time. I think that social media has been vital to the creation of an alternative media that challenges the status quo. But, along with this amazing revolution in information reporting and sharing has come a certain level of gullibility that makes some folks look a little foolish.
How can you avoid falling victim to the dissemination of false information? It’s actually quite simple.
- Don’t mindlessly share everything that intrigues you. It is not enough to simply read that title of an article.
- While reading an article online, check the sources. You’ll notice that many of the words within my posts are highlighted. Don’t just trust me. If an author makes a claim for which they do not provide a link or cite a source, challenge them.
- If the article seems particularly sensational or makes you say, “Oh my gosh can you believe this???”, there’s a possibility that your incredulity is well founded. Double check the info. Google the title of the article and see if it has been posted elsewhere. If it tracks back to a site called “The Daily Currant”, you can rest assured that the article is satire and not meant to be taken seriously.
- Check other articles posted by the same author. Test their credibility.
- Check search engines for pertinent information within the article. See if anyone else is reporting the matter. If the primary sources you find are conspiracy forums, there’s a good chance that the article is based on rumor rather than fact.
- There is a BIG difference between an opinion and a news report. This is commonly referred to as editorializing. I do it all the time. I’m doing it right now. Please learn to differentiate between stories that contain newsworthy information those that merely reflect the views of the author.
- Use common sense. Not everything you share has to contain a bibliography, but if it sounds too good or too sensational to be true, it very well may be.
I know that there are things going on in this fallen world that are almost beyond belief. I recognize that there are many things my like minded readers know to be true, even if they seem outlandish. We need to expose the darkness and corruption all around us. Let us try not to muddy the water by neglecting to do OUR due diligence.