For those who navigated the online minefield of 2016, there is no doubt that fake news sites have multiplied. Many are apparently run by teens in Macedonia looking to score a quick buck. Facebook, and Google have announced plans to rid the web of the scourge, but that opens a whole door to new problems. Including social justice warriors who think that opinion and facts they disagree with are “fake.” The Los Angeles Times unwittingly highlighted a Massachusetts assistant professor who doing just that. And that’s a problem.
Here’s what the LA Times wrote:
Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communication at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, put together a publicly available Google doc cataloging “False, misleading, clickbait-y and satirical ‘news’ sources.” It’s been making the rounds on social media as people seek to cleanse their newsfeeds of misinformation.
So far, so good. Until you actually look at the list of sites. There are definite fake news sites, like The Onion (an aside if you believe The Onion you should probably just shut your computer and never get on the internet again), The Borowitz Report, MegynKelly.us, among others, on the list. But there are also real news and opinion sites that mad Zimdars list. These sites include, Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, Salem Media’s RedState, and Independent Journal Review (IJR). While these sites contain some clickbaity headlines from time to time — quite frankly what website doesn’t including the LA Times — they are certainly not “fake news sites.”
That is the problem people like Facebook and Google are going to face. Whom do you listen to when compiling your list of ‘fake news sites?’ Do you listen to your customers, or some panel of academics who believe that all opinions that are different from theirs, or facts that don’t feed into their own confirmation bias, are ‘fake?’ It is going to be a real problem.
I had a conversation with a very liberal relative of mine about this topic yesterday. The relative believes that only main stream media outlets should be allowed to proffer news. That partisan outlets, or those “spewing propaganda” should be throttled. Here’s the problem. To people that share the same ideological bend as my relative, a place like Conservative Review “spews propaganda,” but to a vast part of the nation — those that voted for Trump — the Main Stream Media is just a propaganda arm of the Left. One man’s facts are what another man sees as blatant partisan propaganda.
The 2016 campaign showed that in spades. Supposed “non-partisan” media fact checking sites often used the opinions of experts as fact. To those living in the Northeast Megalopolis and the West Coast, those opinions are fact. They can’t see how anything else but that can be true.
There’s another name for that, it’s propaganda.
While it is important to weed out the truly fake news sources that have proliferated, Facebook, Google, Twitter, et. Al. need to be open and transparent about how they are categorizing websites, and offer real meaningful avenues for people to challenge classifications.
One of the greatest developments of the past 15 years has been the rise of citizen journalism. As Andrew Breitbart was fond of saying, anyone with a smartphone is a reporter. Many significant stories have been broken by everyday people who have become fed up with what is going on in their own communities. We must all be vigilant that those who wish to classify those with whom they disagree as “fake” don’t succeed in sanitizing the internet of differing views. (For more from the author of “Who Died and Made Facebook and Google Arbiters of ‘Fake’ News? Oh, Yeah, the MSM” please click HERE)