They say that coffee is good for you. It can add years to your life. No, they say that coffee causes all kinds of health problems.
They say a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s, so you should let them lick your face and clean your wounds. No, they say a dog’s mouth is terribly nasty; how could it not be? They lick their butts.
I have finally figured out who the biggest liar in the world is. It’s “They Say.”
They Say is the mysterious, unnamed source of all sorts of information and misinformation. I’ve gotta believe that most people, when they put some tidbit of data out into the world, think that their information is true and accurate. They believe it, based on whatever it is that they base things on.
Others, however, just like to jerk our chains. They like to stir things up and get a little excitement going. A couple of decades ago, these people could only inflame a limited number of people, those in their circle of influence, whether that was a physically close group like a family or community; or a larger one, like a live audience or a newspaper readership, or even a TV or movie audience.
But now we have the Internet. We live in an age in which people can disseminate information across the whole world in a matter of seconds. That can be a good thing, but it also has a downside.
Fake news is a real thing. The problem is, when you read it, you don’t know it’s fake news. It looks like real news. This makes it extremely hard for regular folks like me to know what’s really going on.
We saw lots of examples of this during the recent presidential election. If either of the candidates had done everything the other one’s camp said they had done, they wouldn’t have had time to run for president.
Trump is making sex tapes in Russia. Clinton is pimping little kids out of a pizza joint in D.C.
So, why would anyone spend their time putting out news stories that they know are false? I think I’ve figured out a couple of reasons: money and politics.
Sadly, many readers actually still believe what they read on the Internet, and these people can be manipulated to buy what someone is selling or to vote for – or against – a particular candidate.
There always have been gullible people in the world. And there always have been people willing to take advantage of them. Now, in the Internet age, shysters can dupe lots more gullible people at one time than ever before.
There have also always been lazy people in the world. People who believe what they read because it comes from someone they think is trustworthy, or because it supports what they already think, or because the site looks professional.
So, what to do? I personally am tired of being bombarded by news stories that aren’t, of people with an agenda trying to sway me with information that isn’t true. I’m tired of being conned. Used. Handled.
How can a regular person like me sift through the gibberish and come up with some semblance of an understanding of what is really accurate? I’ve figured out a few things:
- If it’s true, it’ll be reported in more than one place. I saw a headline the other day that Bill Cosby had committed suicide. I googled “Bill Cosby suicide.” Nothing but that one source. Had that been true, it would have been all over the news. That’s one way to figure out if it’s real.
- Click on the link for the source itself. Go to the place that’s reporting the news item. Ever heard of them before? There are literally millions of websites run by anybody who wants to start one. I could start a news site tomorrow. And make up anything I wanted to put on it. People do that for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes I look at the “About” page to try to get a feel for who these people are and what agenda they may be pushing.
- If there’s not a source shown, I discount it on its face. You want me to believe it? Tell me where you got it.
- How is it written? A reputable news source in the United States should be written in standard English. It shouldn’t sound like the writer is not a native English speaker. If the news story originates elsewhere in the world, I’m not as strict about this, but the stuff from the US should have correct sentence structure.
- I try to remember, but once in a while The Onion or The Babylon Bee still gets me. Some sites are pure satire. They’re making it up, and they’ll tell you they’re making it up on their About page. One more reason to take a look there.
The Internet is like fire: both a blessing and a curse. It brings valuable information into our homes that we couldn’t access without it. I take courses online all the time, from places I couldn’t possibly go to physically to sit in class. It lets me shop from virtually any store anywhere. It makes the world smaller.
But it also brings less-than-wonderful things into our homes.
And sometimes those things can look a lot alike.
It’s sort of like a big city. You have to learn which parts of town are safe to walk alone in and which parts you’d be better off not entering at all.