Sunday, June 3, 2018

I can't believe it's not real news

I don't think it will come as a surprise that I'm really, REALLY liberal progressive*

I was raised that way. My dad was a union leader. I grew up learning protest songs. By 10 or 11 I could sing Joe Hill and We Shall Overcome and I'd Rather Be an Engineer, among others. I went to union meetings, union picnics, union softball games, and, every two years, the big NALC convention in some big city. This was really exciting because it meant we got to travel (dad was a delegate and so I think a lot of the expenses were paid for, or else we would have been at the Jersey Shore for vacation). It also meant I got to run around some HUGE fancy hotel for a week with the other union brats. It was the 70's, so as long as you didn't do any damage or get the police involved, yes, your mother would let you explore the farthest reaches of the Chicago Hilton. It is quite grand and I was dually impressed when my father told me about the riots that took place out front the year I was born.

So this is my filter, it's my experience. When I say I believe that protest is vital to democracy, or that corporate money disproportionately influence American politics, I am arguing through that filter. I may be biased, but I am NOT lying.

Mom told us it tasted just like butter. THAT was a lie.
This past weekend, if you've been living under a rock, a woman was killed and dozens injured when a car plowed into a group of people walking away from a protest. Heather Heyer was in Charlottesville, VA to counter-protest the white supremacist rally in her town. I'm not going into all the details, you can find plenty of that online. But lets take two disparate responses to Heather Heyer's death: 

From the Alt-Right (original site has been removed)

I'm not sure that Heather Heyer thought of herself as a comrade, although maybe she did. I am 100% certain she didn't think of herself as “A 32-year-old woman without children... a burden on society and has no value.”

Those are both biased views of a woman unknown to the writers. The basic facts of the story are true; Heather Heyer was a 32 year old woman, she died at a protest, she was childless. Calling her either "comrade" or "fat slut" (yes they did) is putting a biased slant on it to evoke an emotional reaction. That is propaganda. 

  1. information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.
  2. the deliberate spreading of such information, rumors, etc.
  3. the particular doctrines or principles propagated by an organization or movement.
There is another bias that appears in news articles that's not propaganda but it does, intentionally or not, set a tone that can impact the reader's perception of what's happening. A well-known story bias came out of the reporting on Hurricane Katrina: 

Looting or Finding?
The picture is from this Salon article that explains the whole thing, in summary, in the days after Hurricane Katrina, people responded to different pictures capturing survivors: the pictures of black people taking things from stores were captioned as "looting" and the pictures of white people taking things were captioned as "finding." More recently, people have pointed out a tendency of journalists to use the word "terrorist" when the perpetrator is a Muslim, but not when they're non-muslim.  This is bias and there are whole web pages devoted to avoiding it when writing.

     Bias: verb (used with object)biased, biasing or (especially Britishbiassed, biassing.
  1.  to cause to hold or exhibit a particular bias; to influence, especiallyunfairly: a tearful plea designed to bias the jury;
e.g. a survey biased toward highly educated people.

This brings us to FAKE NEWS:

"consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.[1] Fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically, often with sensationalist, exaggerated, or patently false headlines that grab attention." ( You should read the whole thing, it's pretty good

Fake news is completely made up. Pizzagate is fake.   Oliver Stone faking the moon landing for NASA is fake. 

A twitter post about Outback Steakhouses locations forming a pentagram is fake news. Huffpo's reporting of the tweet is dubious news. 

BUT the problem with fake news, as opposed to entertainment or satire sites, is that they are being set up to promote fake stories about political leaders and then bots are being used to promote the stories and give them widespread coverage. Sometimes for money or power, for hits and advertising, or just for shits and giggles. These entrepreneurial teens from Macedonia were raking in hundreds and thousands of dollars by posting sensational stories during the Trump campaign. 

Common sense media has a guide to figuring out if a story is fake and what can be done about it. In nursing school I learned to be wary of media sources, especially on the internet. You should ask yourself: 

  • Is this coming from a known and trusted news source. Even if they have a left/right wing bias, did they get the FACTS straight. If you have the facts, you can probably figure out the bias
  • Does it sound too sensational to be true. We have this amazing new invention called The Google. Take 5 minutes to search and get confirmation on the story. 
  • Who is profiting from this?
Here is a link to 10 fact-checking websites. 

*I like progressive, because I'm FOR PROGRESS as opposed to being LIBERAL, like a grandma who gives away too many cookies. FYI. 

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