How to Fight Fake News

It starts by being honest with ourselves.

Politics Features Fake News
Share Tweet Submit Pin
How to Fight Fake News

As soon as I saw the phrase “Fake News,” I knew it would be here to stay. It’s Trumpian, despite its origins amidst the left, a two-word combo just waiting to show up with an exclamation point at the end of a slapdash tweet. It’s a silly, easily subverted one-two punch, a reductionist and lazy means of argument, the media equivalent of slapping “racist” or “bigot” on every person you don’t like so you don’t have to pay attention to anything they say.

It’s got the innate illogic of the global war on terror: a clear goal with unachievable ends. As soon as the phrase hit the airwaves, it became mimetic and unstoppable. To end “Fake News” is to rid the media world of evil, to stop at nothing until the so-called truth is victorious. Calling out “Fake News” is already a bipartisan pastime. Right-leaning media sources seem to especially relish anytime they can call out the mainstream, center-left media powers for spreading the stuff. I can’t blame them. It’s a phrase born for subversion.

I’ve bitten my tongue at bars when I hear friends and strangers talk about the need to fight this epidemic. In one breath, they can condemn Trump’s assault on the First Amendment and call for media censorship. The new left, the SJWs, whatever you want to call them, is taking the easy way out on this as they are with so many other things. They want to neuter or outright censor their opposition and claim the moral high ground when Trump says he wants to make it easier to sue the media for libel.

We cannot rid ourselves of “Fake News” without censorship, without politicization, without the realities of power coming into play. The implicit message of combatting “Fake News” is that we must trust the big names in media. They are the keepers of truth in a way other people are not. This is understandable, but only to a point. It’s logical to say The Washington Post is more credible than a David Icke wannabe’s misspelt, poorly cited blog. It is not logical to say The New York Times will always be more credible than Breitbart or even InfoWars.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating and that means, unfortunately, you need to take every article, every opinion, every talking point case by case. In a world where Trump is POTUS, we cannot afford to discount voices we wrote off as absurd or partisan. If they are so blatantly incorrect, it should be easy to display this through rational argumentation beyond just calling them crazy, fringe or morally depraved. Will logic convince every Alex Jones devotee he may not be the most reliable source? No, but calling them morons will definitely have a lower success rate if conversion is your goal.

I loathe disinformation and love free inquiry. Unfortunately, I don’t think you can have the latter without the former. You don’t have good information without bad information to weigh it against, just as you can’t tell what a good argument is unless you know what a bad one sounds like. The problem isn’t “Fake News.” It’s that we’ve lost the collective will to say, “I don’t need to be spoonfed information and told what to believe, thanks very much!”

“Fake News” is a symptom, not a disease in and of itself, and this disease affects everyone. The ailment is one of resting on our laurels, of considering contestable information to be settled once and for all because we like it. This cancer of Confirmation Bias erodes our individual objectivity as information consumers. The way to cure this larger problem isn’t through getting rid of the bad information. That’s giving a man a fish. Teaching a man to fish, in this situation, means equipping everyone with a toolset of critical thinking that’ll still bring people to different conclusions, but on the basis of firmer rationale.

We reject that which does not make us comfortable, that which does not line up with our ideology. This is absolutely effective if what makes you uncomfortable are lies of any sort, and from anyone, and your ideology is one capable of constant revision on the basis of new evidence. If it isn’t based on those things, you are not an objective enough critic to call out the “Fake News” from the real. You are merely buying into the narratives of other louder people and organizations. They are made up of people like you and people like you lie too.

To effectively fight “Fake News,” we need to begin being honest with ourselves first. That kind of honesty means admitting we could be wrong about some of our most cherished presuppositions. It means we should apply our skepticism to the societal shibboleths we love as rigorously as we do to the ones we hate. Most of all, it means staying humble. Information is a bigger monolith, a more powerful mechanism, than a nuclear arsenal when it comes to controlling human beings in their daily lives. We should treat it with the same caution, concern and curiosity as we would a Cold War.

The best way to counter “Fake News” is by getting a handle on these sorts of truths. It’s getting to know the hermeneutics of suspicion, the inherent lack of value in an answer that can’t withstand questioning. Being informed about current events and keeping an eye on domestic and foreign affairs is essential to a republic’s survival. But it is the epitome of arrogance for you or me, citizens with finite time and mental resources, to think we are capable of knowing the absolute truth about what’s going on in the world. It’s also an insult to your intelligence that a Red-Pilling redditor or Big Media talking head can do a better job parsing through this information than you.

The antidote to “Fake News” of any stripe is a sense of wonder. Skepticism is just a more pessimistic way of saying curiosity. Any narrative from any source is ultimately coming from a human being who doesn’t know everything, but may know a little more than you. You’ll never know how much more they know until you start asking them questions. To question the free press is as essential as having a free press in a society. If the news doesn’t withstand this sort of questioning, it’s fake. If it does, you’ve found more than the news. You’ve found the truth.

More from Fake News