The term “fake news” has been in the news quite a lot lately. How do you define that term? I think of it as news that misinterprets reality, usually in a bad or critical way. But not always.
As a long-time skeptic about stories that give generic details or just seem “off” somehow, like this one, I found myself in an odd place. When a story doesn’t seem accurate, but is a story you want to believe, how much do you try to dig to find out it isn’t true? I had an email conversation with a national urban legend expert who verified that, in fact, it didn’t happen.
Or what happens when fake news causes you to do the right things for the wrong reasons? I once spoke to a church leader who proudly told me that they were going to write cards to a boy suffering a brain tumor who was trying to receive a record number of get-well cards as their Vacation Bible School project.
Having researched the story, I showed her information that the boy no longer had the brain tumor and did not want any more cards. After consideration, she decided they would do it anyway because it would be meaningful for their children.
These are the exceptions to the rule, however. Far more often it is critical to a person, a business or a category of people. The reasons vary: outrage, it confirms our worldview, it’s funny or important. It provides an answer where one may not yet exist. Sometimes we feel so strongly that we find it hard to believe proof from a normally reliable source that disagrees. Like the VBS leader we still feel the need to “share it with all your friends.”
There is another form of news that is hard to believe as well. It is the Good News; it’s filled with miracles, salacious stories — even someone rising from the dead. Believers know these stories are true, based on faith often far more than facts.
We all know at least one person who cannot filter their forwarding. We roll our eyes and delete their messages without reading them or change the topic because of their “unbelievable” track record. Or we reevaluate our behavior when it is a friend, family business or organization you belong to that has been unfairly targeted.
Before you believe what you encounter or share it with others, stop, research or ask someone. Make it your decision to not let fake news keep someone from accepting the Good News.
Ken Satterfield, a former media specialist, is Word&Way’s Advertising and Marketing Coordinator.
Don't Be Fooled! A Guide to Fake News Websites (urbanlegends.about.com)
The Macedonian Teens Who Mastered Fake News (WIRED)
How to Spot Fake News (USA Today)
The Good News and Fake News (Catholic Exchange)
Real News/Fake News (UC Berkley LibGuide)
In the 90s, Bizarre Rumors and Urban Legends Spread to the Masses Via Fax Machine (Timeline)