Friday, December 16, 2016

My Ten Observations on Fake News

On an average, I'll probably run through one thousand stories or news posts each week....some maybe more....some maybe less.  I'm retired, and I have time on my hands.  The number of organizations?  NPR, London Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, ARD, ZDF, SWR, N-24, France-24, BBC, Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, the Daily Mail, The Australian, HuffPo, Drudge, the Telegraph, the AGE out of Australia, etc.

After a while, you can generally regard news into three categories: (1) worthless, meaning anything with Lady GaGa, Kardashians or Hollywood remakes.  (2) limited value or fake news.  This usually means they cite one fact, and then tell an entire story....40 lines....over that one fact...which most are simply their humble opinion or slant view of the story.  I generally regard this more as commentary or a blog-deal....rather than real news.  Then (3), where you have some honest journalist like at the WSJ who is telling a 40-line story with ten facts over a developing situation like the VW diesel story.  You don't own a diesel VW but you just find it interesting how so many people worked to deceive the public and the government.  Factually, it is complete.

So, here are my observations:

1.  If they don't cite where or who they got the information's either limited value or fake news.  If they say some priest noted the Pope's letter said such-and-such.....who is the priest?

2.  If a poll is the entire basis of the's either a limited value or fake news item.  Polls for the most part can be constructed to bring a false story enough weight to support the theme wanted by the journalist.

3.  Once you realize a past story written by such-and-such writer/journalist was totally false....if the newspaper or press organization won't fire the guy....then everything he or she produces is a question mark from that point on.  By not firing is bringing discredit to the organization.

4.  If it sounds too good to be probably isn't true.

5.   The lack of quotes.  Most factual stories will quote least once or twice.  If there's not a single quote in the might still be true, but the odds lessen to some degree.

6.  Do your homework.  If they discuss some particular trend or event....go back and read several reviews on the trend or event (not just with these guys).  You want to build up a group of sources that you generally feel good about.  When the Wall Street Journal talks about business, I feel comfortable with their analysis.  When the Washington Post talks about the DC metro, I generally don't feel that comfortable with their analysis.  When German ARD folks discuss BREXIT, I take the news and read other sources because I know that ARD can be occasionally one-sided on their view.

7.  Planted news.  When some new five-star news comes out and it looks really bad on one company, or one political party, or one might want to ask....was this planted by someone with an agenda?  Fake?  No....but it means there's more to the story and the agenda.  If the story-line comes out of some charity or human-rights group...what's the factual side of the story or what can be proven?

8.  News derived from a foundation.  Journalists like to get 'copy' from some foundation who hand them a hundred lines for a story, and they cut-and-paste the item....without really researching the angle or slant.  The minute that you realize it's a need to exercise your judgement on the fakeness level.

9.  Rarely is there fake news in sports.  I've been waiting for someone to dig up some fake story on German soccer, or Grand Prix auto racing....but it never appears to happen.  So your chief aim on fake news has a limit.  Same can be said for fashion, and TV-show commentaries.

10.  Remember that there's only X-amount of news per day being created.  So, let's be best, there might be 100 lines of real news for you to read, and the rest is all garbage.  So, to get you up and watching this broadcast or reading Focus or Bild....they have to hype things a good bit.  It's part of the gimmick.

Do we need filters to filter out fake news?  Maybe.  But then you might ask....will legit journalists find ways to deliver news of a marginal quality with limited quality of factual information?  Notice, I didn't call it fake news....just marginal quality.

We may find in a year that the new Facebook filter removed not only fake news but also legit pieces written by Newsweek, the Daily Mail, and the Italia Oggi out of Milan.  Then we wake up by the end of 2017 realizing that a quarter of normal users of Facebook just stopped logging in or checking things out.  Then we act all shocked that another platform emerged out of thin air over the summer of 2017....providing everything that Facebook filtered out.

It's like the anti-alcohol slant at the turn of the last century in the US, and our attempt in 1920 to finally squeeze out booze and bring in the Prohibition Era.  It took only a couple of years to admit that while in the morally right was an absolute failure, and it took til 1933 to end mistake.

Fake news is worth discussing but if you drag this topic to an open debate with real Germans.....they might just suggest wage stagnation and increasing poverty affect them more than fake news.  That's the harsh reality of this debate.

Footnote: I'm also wondering where UFO news, the Loch Ness Sea Monster, Bigfoot, and Kardashian updates will end up with this Facebook fake news checker.  Is it possible that Bigfoot might pass, but Kardashian stories might fail?

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