By Dr. Mercola
Unless you've been living under a rock or hiding beneath the covers in your bed for the past couple of months, you've undoubtedly heard the war cries against "fake news."
Facebook — being the largest social media site on which news is shared among millions — has vowed to take steps to limit the amount of "misinformation" that can be spread on its site by forwarding suspected fake news stories to fact-checkers like Snopes.1,2,3,4,5
So-called disputed stories would then be "buried" lower in people's newsfeeds. However, while verifying celebrity deaths or disputing urban legends — Snopes' specialty — is a pretty easy task, debating matters about health and nutrition is an altogether different matter.
If Snopes, whose office is reportedly filled with junk food,6 is now the arbiter of truth when it comes to health — you can expect to see massive censorship of natural health and general promotion of industry talking points.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote that if he were ever to decide between a government without newspapers or newspapers witthout government he would not hesitate a moment to prefer the later.
Remember that 90 percent of U.S. media is controlled by six corporations, making it virtually impossible to get any information that is not consistent with their agenda to maximize their profits. The only bastion of hope to find out the truth is the uncensored internet.
It seems these corporations are taking advantage of the current sense of confusion, and are using their existing control to silence disagreement in a manner that strongly reminds me of Senator Joseph McCarthy's efforts in the 1950s to accuse many innocent people of being communists.
The Murky War on Fake News
By definition, fake news stories would be articles that are figments of someone's imagination or contain outright falsehoods. On the one end of clear-cut fake news you have The Onion, a well-known satire site.
On the other, you have RealTrueNews.org, which claims to create intentionally fake stories "to make those who share fake right-wing news … more aware that they're susceptible to stories written in [their] language that are complete, obvious [and] utter fabrications," The Daily Beast reports.7
In the middle, you have shoddy journalism in general, where bias, corporate and political influence, unreliable sources, malleable ethics and general laziness or plain lack of experience result in a wide array of news of questionable quality and accuracy.
The main difference is that everything in this middle gray-zone usually claims to be based in fact and truth. But is censoring or blacklisting the best way to address so-called "fake news" — especially when a vast majority of it falls in this gray zone?
Of course, people are also allowed to express their opinions (ideally, journalists should make such statements clear), which cannot be arbitrated as true or false per se.
As recently noted by National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden, the solution to fake news is teaching people critical thinking — not censoring what they read.8
"The problem of fake news isn't solved by hoping for a referee but rather because we as participants, we as citizens, we as users of these services help each other.
The answer to bad speech is not censorship. The answer to bad speech is more speech. We have to exercise and spread the idea that critical thinking matters now more than ever, given the fact that lies seem to be getting very popular," Snowden told Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
Facebook Clamping Down on Fake News — or so It Thinks
Facebook has announced it will stem the tide of fake news stories — the magnitude of which is estimated to be a fraction of 1 percent of the network's content — by allowing users to flag a post as fake news. Flagged posts would then be handed over to a coalition of fact-checkers.
But who exactly are these fact-checkers, and do they have the appropriate qualifications to arbiter "truth?"
It's difficult for any given individual to determine what is 100 percent accurate without significant personal insight into the topic at hand, and the ability to accurately sort through scientific research, should such a thing be necessary.
Attention to detail, an inquiring mind and following a thorough process that includes looking at things from many sides would also be helpful. There's also the issue of bias. A professional fact-checker can have none.
With all of that in mind, the coalition of fact-checkers selected by Facebook to police our news feeds — which include Snopes,9 PolitiFact, the Associated Press, FactCheck.org and ABC News — raises concerns.
Most if not all of these organizations tend to political left-leaning bias, as does Facebook, if we're to believe The Washington Post.10
When it comes to fake information, it is ironic that Facebook and Google relentlessly promote "fake" information in the form of advertisements for pharmaceuticals and other businesses — their primary form of revenue earnings. Will Snopes also be verifying the validity of their promoted advertisements?
It seems nearly every ad they perpetuate contains "fake" information, yet they have no concerns raking in the cash by promoting pharmaceutical and other industry perspectives.
The Twisted People Facebook Entrusts With Controlling What You Read
What About Mainstream Media Flubs?
A number of people have also questioned how mainstream media would be dealt with in this war on fake news, and rightfully so. As noted by The Daily Beast:21
"Mike Cernovich, who popularized the #HillarysHealth hashtag during the presidential election, helping to spread various theories about her rumored ailments, told The Daily Beast that other news outlets, which have reported things that turned out to be false, should also perhaps be banned.
'Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Should The New York Times be banned from Facebook?' Cernovich said in a direct Twitter message to The Daily Beast referencing erroneous reporting about the lead-up to the Iraq War.
'Rolling Stone created a nationwide hysteria surrounding the University of Virginia. Rolling Stone created a rape hoax. Should Rolling Stone be banned from Facebook? Should the so-called journalists who linked to the hoax article be banned from Facebook? …
Sometimes people are wrong. Being wrong is different from spreading fake news. If a person is legitimately trying to reason her way to the truth, even if misguided, then she is not spreading fake news — even if it seems 'kooky' to outsiders … The entire media enterprise has become dishonest. We define one another based on … a bad judgment call or two … In that regard, all of media is fake news.'"
We Should Be More Concerned About Algorithms Filtering Our Reading Material
Forbes' contributor Jordan Shapiro takes it a step further, calling the "fake news" scare a case of fake news. His excellent article, which I recommend reading in its entirety, reads in part:22
"Don't worry about fake news. The whole scare is, itself, fake news. Don't believe a word of it. Could it be that the news media is still trying to distract us from their own poor performance? After all, if inaccuracy makes a thing 'fake,' then all the pundits' and pollsters' pre-election day predictions were pretty bad offenders.
Or perhaps we should define fake news as the process of intentionally producing false stories for rhetorical reasons, in order to persuade people to shift perspectives. Which would make most of the advertising industry guilty …
While well-meaning people run around trying to protect children (and gullible adults) from so-called 'fake news,' anyone … who actually leans totalitarian must be ecstatic … Once the citizenry accepts the conceit that some news is 'real' (and therefore, good) while other news is 'fake' (and therefore, bad) they'll voluntarily submit to censorship. Freedom of the press can easily be replaced by sanctioned propaganda …
[T]he real problem is not falsehoods or inaccuracies, but rather that everything about the popular landscape of digital media currently encourages us to see the world the way we want it to be. Combine that with an education system which pays little more than lip service to critical thinking … and you end up with a population that's been encouraged to live with poor vision … Democracy's biggest threat is not tyrants, but rather citizens who are satisfied with their own limited view of reality."
We are all flawed individuals with our own perspectives and biases. To suggest that any person or group of people could be put in charge as "arbiters of truth" is a dangerous and inevitable path towards censorship.
Google and Facebook's foundations were built upon crowd-sourcing free thoughts and actions. It now appears their creative beginnings are transforming into a censorship authority that controls what information may be viewed by the public. We all find our inner truths differently, and to allow Snopes and similar groups to become the internet's watchdogs will result in biased censorship and will be a devastating mistake for Facebook and Google.