Truth, Lies and The Internet

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Truth, Lies and The Internet

November 9, 2016

It’s finally over!

And as much as many of us would like to forget it ever happened, this election season requires some analysis. One disturbing trend has been that over the course of the election, there have been floods of fake news articles on the Internet. Conspiracy theories, lies, hoaxes and the relentless efforts to check the facts have been everywhere on social media. Some have called out Facebook’s job of moderating bogus news stories as “terrible.” And the endless supply of media to choose from hasn’t broadened our perspectives as much as it’s closed us off into “like-minded social networks.”

In other words, we are all just preaching to (and receiving from) the choir, whether or not the choir traffics in fact or fiction.

So how can we make important decisions in a democracy if we’re not sure of the truth?

What is the truth?

Surprisingly, the truth tends to be whatever we make it, sometimes. As research shows, two people can view the “same picture, video or document” and have very different ideas about what is depicted.

This tendency has altered the way we perceive documentary proofs.

For instance, the WikiLeaks revelations about Hillary Clinton’s campaign were a smoking gun for some, while others concluded its contents were taken out of context. Similarly, Donald Trump’s hot mic scandal prompted as much outrage as it left some thinking it was just “locker room talk.”

Today, because of the Internet and social media, we’re exposed to a wide variety of news sources. It also means we’ve become the curators of our own media consumption. Whether on Facebook, Twitter or a preferred news app, we all choose what types of articles or stories we want to see. And, as it turns out, we tend to consume “information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not.”

In a recent survey by Pew Research Center, 81% of surveyed voters said “that most supporters of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump not only disagree over plans and policies, but also disagree on ‘basic facts.’”

The effort to expose lies

Throughout the election, there was astonishing persistence by journalists and news organizations to check the facts. Yet that didn’t stop, and hasn’t stopped, fake news stories to go viral on social media.

One article with the headline, “Hillary Clinton In 2013: ‘I Would Like to See People Like Donald Trump Run for Office; They’re Honest and Can’t Be Bought,’” was a completely fabricated story which garnered 480,000 interactions on Facebook in less than a week. In contrast, “the New York Times bombshell” which revealed that Trump “declared a $916 million loss on his 1995 income tax returns” only had 175,000 interactions in one month.

Knowing that 62% of U.S. adults get their news on social media can be a frightening notion, considering that fake news by its very nature has the tendency to trend.

The persistence to check the facts has been disregarded as a lost effort for some, including reporter Caitlin Dewey, who said “In many ways the debunking just reinforced the sense of alienation or outrage that people feel about the topic.”

For others, the limitations of fact-checking are understood but the effort is optimistic.

Managing editor of Snopes.com, “one of the internet’s oldest rumor-checking sites,” Brooke Binkowski describes the effort of fact-checking the Internet as this: “There’s always more. It’s Sisyphean — we’re all pushing that boulder up the hill, only to see it roll back down.”

Now that the election is over, many are consequentially upset with the outcome. What we’ll see in the news from this point on is anyone’s guess. However, the trend of fake news circulating the Internet is likely to continue, so don’t believe everything you read on your friends’ timelines.

Disclaimer: The above is solely intended for informational purposes and in no way constitutes legal advice or specific recommendations.