Let’s talk about truth, opinions, bias, mistakes, theories, conspiracies, fake news, and satire.
Recently, an individual who had unrestricted access to the best information in the world, shared something that was clearly satire to the average person, yet he believed it was true.
But when we look at the amount of misinformation that is spreading through our society, this confusion about truth isn’t all that funny, as it affects everyone.
What is Actual Truth?
Truth is what’s real, also known as facts or reality. We all kind of think we know it, but most of the time we apply our own pre-conceived beliefs and biases to it.
There are an infinite amount of details for any given story, details that can’t all be shared nor need to be shared. The details that get shared or omitted form the story with a certain perspective. Anyone writing or sharing the story has to make the decision of what to keep and what to leave out for the sake of length. Given that all the important details of a story are shared, other details left out doesn’t make it untrue.
Pure, objective truth is hard to communicate, if not impossible. There will always be information that’s omitted for the sake of length. The story is still true, but with a perspective, and every story has a perspective. So just because a news story focuses more on certain details, and you disagree with that, it doesn’t make it “fake news.” It’s still truth, with a perspective you don’t prefer.
However, if important details are left out or irrelevant details are included which alter the main narrative of the story, it is probably bias. But before we get there, let’s talk about opinions.
Opinions Are Just Opinions
An opinion is merely a thought about what the truth means. Everyone has an opinion and that’s fine. News companies that publish information will also publish opinions, and good news companies will make that distinction.
With opinions, there’s an assumption that we’re on the same page about the facts, but we’re just sharing our views of the effects of those facts. Actual opinions are not inherently true or “fake news.” They are opinions.
In case it’s not apparent, this is an opinion piece.
The danger lies when opinions a weaved into the narrative of facts and presents itself as a fact rather than an opinion. Now we’re in the territory of bias.
Everything is Biased
Because every piece of information is told with a perspective, technically everything communicated has some bias to it. But some stories are much more biased than others.
Significant bias involves a distortion of the truth. The truth is told, but there is a strong opinion about what that truth means. However, that opinion is often told as if it were truth, mixing itself in with the actual facts. There are different ways this happens.
As mentioned earlier, truth distortion can occur through an omission of important details, or through an unusual focus on specific details, changing the narrative of the story. Bias can occur when opinions are made directly beside truth statements so the two are indistinguishable. In the broader scenario of a collection of stories, such as an online publication, there can be bias in which stories get told and which don’t. Or a set of stories with a singular and strong view in one direction.
As humans, we will all have bias not only in how we receive information, but also in how we share information. Most of the time, this is unintentional. Are own internal biases make us believe that we have a grasp on objective truth, and share a bias while believing it’s the real truth. Other times, it’s a little more malevolent. We share a story knowing it is biased, but do so to persuade and opinion or illicit a certain response.
Depending on the level of bias, it can ride that fuzzy border of what’s fake news.
We All Make Mistakes
It happens. An event occurs and there are a lot of things happening very quickly. The story is continually developing and all the facts aren’t clear. A false piece of information gets communicated. Sometimes it’s minor like a name, time, or location. Sometimes it’s and affects the actual story.
In some cases it’s no one’s fault, there is just a lot of confusion around what’s happening and miscommunication occurs. Other times, it’s an error due to the poor judgment or poor processes of the reporter, and false information gets told without the proper vetting.
However, credible news stations will issue retractions within a reasonable amount of time because their reputations are on the line. A retraction is when they say, “Oopsie, we reported this, but it was wrong – we were wrong, here’s what actually happened.” This is not “fake news,” it is an error that was corrected.
Real Fake News
Fake news – actual fake news and not the “fake news” you like to use when you disagree with something – is telling something that is objectively false, yet telling it as if it were true, with an intent to deceive. It’s often sprinkled with true details or true context to make it appear reliable. They are lies.
Fake news is not a new problem. I wrote about this issues 6 years ago, and it’s only seemed to get worse. This term was properly used to call out actual fake news sites until the president coopted the term to label anything negative said about him, and now people use “fake news” to label anything they don’t like hearing.
But actual fake news continues to thrive and deceive our society, wreaking havoc on any collective agreement on what is true. When people don’t have a grasp on reality and can’t agree on what is true and what is false on a very elementary level, arguments are completely pointless. When the term “fake news” is used flippantly to describe facts you don’t like to hear, it tears the foundation of reality and allows actual fake news to grow unchecked.
It’s Satire. (SMH)
That’s usually the feeling you get when you have to tell someone it’s satire.
Satire is a joke. Literally. It is a false story, told as if were true, but with an outrageous enough plot line that the average reader would know it’s false. It’s the equivalent of a funny comic or cartoon. It has no intention to deceive, but is clearly meant to entertain and mock.
Some satire websites approach the blurry line of fake news, in which their stories are not very funny and have a more serious tone. Though their intent may be to entertain, the tone and style of their delivery places them closer to fake news and pose a danger for the gullible. However, many are familiar with the Onion or Babylon Bee, which are satire websites. Though one might question their humor, the stories are outlandish enough that the average person knows that it’s a joke. I say “average reader” because some people in our population cannot recognize satire and believe the stories are true.
Which leads to the main point of this post.
The Most Uninformed Informed Person
The president of the United States, who supposedly has access to the best information and a plethora of advisors to inform him, still defaults to extremely biased news, opinions, and actual fake news, all favorable to him, as his primary sources of information. He believes they are all true and shares them with the public. His supporters will defend him saying he’s obviously joking or trying to troll his critics. A simple evaluation of his public appearances and Twitter feed make it clearly obvious this is not the case. He believes any information he gets, as longs as it’s something he wants to hear, whether it’s true or not.
And now hitting a new low (because apparently there’s no rock-bottom), he shared a post from the Babylon Bee, a blatantly satirical website, thinking it was real news.
Even if you put all political views and character traits aside, there is something morbidly wrong with this. The most informed man in the world willingly chooses to ignore the access to top level intelligence that he has, and even basic reality. He instead relies on talk shows and fake news sites as his source of information, and now apparently satire sites have also made that list.
Just Don’t Be Stupid
Look, I know the internet is a confusing place. The odds are stacked against you. There’s a disgustingly large amount of content out there, the majority of it bad. Most new outlets, even when reporting true stories, will intentionally sensationalize them to play off your emotions. Biased news outlets will lean hard into your biases. They may not even believe their own content, but know that it gels with you. Fake news sites thrive off of the emotional reactions they get from you because you believe them. Social media is agnostic about truth – its algorithms are calculated to deliver what you already like and believe, whether it’s true or not.
It’s all with one driving motivation – money. When you consume their content, they show ads and make money.
But you can limit and curate the content you absorb. You can do basic fact checks. Does the story sound realistic? What sources do they reference? Who is publishing this? Are they credible? Who would benefit from this story? What motivation would there be for publishing this story.
Yes, content publishers can be greedy and even. But there’s also a responsibility on us to not be stupid.