‘Fake news: The onus is on all of us to become smarter and more critical’

Dec 24, 2019
Robin says the burden for all of us is trying to fix fake news. Source: Getty Images

When we read the news, whether online, on television, radio, or in traditional hard copy, we are faced with a new style of journalism. The new journalism is faster-paced than ever before. With pressure to publish online and beat the many competitors, journalists are now prone to speculate about issues as there is less time to confirm the truth or otherwise of what they are reporting.

The idea is to speculate today, publish now and if there’s a problem, deal with it later. This activity, while not intentionally dishonest, is sloppy journalism and often leads to people getting what has been increasingly called, ‘fake news’.

People who read the fake news today may not read the follow-up article that corrects it. Those people are left with beliefs, ideas and opinions that are dubious if not totally incorrect.

When something that is incorrect or dishonest is repeated often enough, those of us reading or listening to the content usually become victims of the truth. How could something be wrong if thousands of other people believe it? Surely, they can’t all be wrong. It then becomes difficult to be the one person out.

Group consensus means that we follow the group and either agree with its members or pretend to agree because it is more pleasant. We don’t want to incur the wrath of our group by having a dissenting view.

Sadly, in increasing numbers of cases, journalists are reporting incorrect information, figures and facts negligently. To a great extent, this has been caused because they are reporting narratives designed by someone else and simply follow the narrative without investigation. Group consensus journalism.

There are good reasons for this; these days, it’s damaging to one’s career to disagree with many mainstream agenda. Scientists and others have been denied promotion, ridiculed, dismissed from their jobs, or had research funding/sponsorship withdrawn for not agreeing with what many believe is the undeniable truth. (Remember those Flat Earth deniers?)

Among this is the ‘clickbait’, headlines and stories to get you to click on an article. Each click generates income for the link owner. Some have a very small part of the story on a page riddled with advertisements to entice you away. Each click reveals a little bit more of the story and another page full of adverts and ca-ching, another few cents are earned. I expect you’ve seen a few of these.

Increasingly, images of well-known, so-called celebrities and socialites appear near articles about dieting, penis growth, dating, breast enhancement and more. When you are lured in by this false clickbait, you are taken to a site trying to sell you something. These ads are totally dishonest and misleading.

Because of the outright lies, deception and poor reporting we read or see, the burden now falls upon us to do the research the journalists either couldn’t be bothered doing, weren’t competent to do, or just didn’t want to do.

The take-away in all this is that today, you can’t afford to believe anything you read, hear or see online or on television. Don’t be happy only confirming stories with other news media outlets reporting the same story, sometimes they all come from the main single source. Go deeper.

Remain sceptical until you have done sufficient research and digging to get to the bottom of stories you feel important. For some, it may be the difference between living in fear or living a sane, healthy life.

It’s highly probable that claims all life on earth will cease to exist in 12 years because of climate change, are false.

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Would you know how to spot a 'fake news' story? What news outlets have your trust?

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