Tuesday, January 10, 2017
During the holidays, I ran
across an excellent series
of posts titled "The Sniff Test," by philosopher Ben Bayer,
regarding the "fake news" controversy that either started or gained
prominence during the last election cycle. Bayer offers the following
diagnosis of the problem:
Fake news sites exist mainly because they can make a fly-by-night profit by attracting eyeballs to ads. That means that they continue to exist because readers believe fake news and are willing to share it. But these readers should know better. A few moments of reflection is usually all that's needed to check the temptation to believe a fake or misleading story. The fault, dear readers, is not in our social media, but in ourselves. [bold added]Bayer's words are directed at two kinds of people: (1) Those who could stand to consider stories more critically, and (2) those who know there is a problem and wish to do something about it. These types are not mutually exclusive, as anyone who reads the series will realize. That said, Bayer offers the following advice for those of us in the second category:
... Rather than just telling your friends they've posted fake news [or calling for censorship -- ed], you might give them a tool to help avoid a similar mistake in the future. If you find my advice useful, consider sharing this article or any of its sequels with people who spread misleading information online. Or just share some of the advice.To this, all I can add is that, although I, too, am known "as someone who likes to posts links from Snopes" and already had a decent feel for how to assess the credibility of a story, I learned quite a few things from the series, and I strongly recommend reading and heeding the advice therein.
In my next five posts, I'll describe important critical questions we should ask about the stories we hear online. Eventually I'll include a separate link to an essay about each question here, so you can share just the one you might think an offending poster needs to ask him or herself:
(1) What is the source of this story and what do I know about it?
(2) How likely is the story to be true in the first place?
(3) If this story were true, what else would be true?
(4) Does the story represent its own facts honestly?
(5) Why do I want to believe this story is true? [format edits]