Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Opinion

June 16, 2014

TIDBITS: Check before sharing a post

CROSSVILLE — Winston Churchill tells us “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

And Mr. Churchill lived before the Internet was invented and social media took hold. A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth even opens an eye these days.

Sometimes, the original poster wasn’t lying, but made a joke, satire. But sometimes people don’t get the joke, and they’re outraged by what they think is happening.

Perhaps it’s because we’ve come to expect the absolute worst of our leaders, or the depths to which some people will sink no longer surprises us, but sometimes people read something that isn’t true, isn’t even presented as being true, but they think it is. Then they share it. Next thing you know, everyone swears that it’s the gospel truth and you can’t convince them otherwise.

One of the most popular, in my mind anyway, sources of “fake” news is The Onion, a satirical periodical publishing for 24 years, lampooning our leaders and cultural icons.

The Onion provides entertainment, and most of their stories are so far out there, you would think no one would ever be fooled. But they have been. China media fell for the crowning of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un as the sexiest man alive. Iran’s state news agency used an Onion poll that said “77 percent of rural Caucasian voters would rather go to a baseball game or have a drink with Ahmadinejad than spend time with Obama.”

The paper of record, The New York Times, mistook an Onion lampooning of a “Tiger Beat” magazine cover as the real deal and reported it helped President Obama have a surge of popularity with younger voters. They were forced to issue a correction.

A Louisiana state representative believed a story on an “abortionplex” opening was the real deal, posting about it on his Facebook page. U.S. Capitol police investigated after the Onion tweeted Congress had taken schoolchildren hostage during the 2011 budget fights.

Another satirical site, The Daily Currant, had a story that Sarah Palin was to join news network Al Jazeera, and that got picked up by The Washington Post.

If the folks who report the news are getting fooled, it’s easy to understand how the regular Joes and Janes on your friends list get fooled from time to time. With new websites popping up every day, it can be hard to keep up with what’s real news, what’s commentary and what’s just downright bunk. Most have a disclaimer, but where they put it is anybody’s guess. If you’re just following a link to a story, you might not see that what you’re reading is pure baloney.

What’s a person to do when you see a news report that has you outraged and fighting mad, like the report that Obama offered to fund a museum of Muslim culture out of his own pocket during the government shutdown? (He didn’t, by the way, in case  you missed Anna Koolman’s apology for reporting the fake news as real news.)

To protect ourselves and our reputations from the damage of passing on lies, we need to ask ourselves some questions.

1. Who is telling me this?

2. How does he or she know this?

3. Is it possible he or she is wrong?

4. If yes, can you find another, unrelated source?

5. Ask yourself questions one, two and three again and again until the answer to number three is “unlikely.” Otherwise, assume it’s not true and don’t share the post.

• • •

Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at hmullinix@crossville-chronicle.com.

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