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The difference between ‘fake news’ and ‘information some people don’t like to hear’

We live in interesting times.

Everyone walks around with a mini-computer in their pocket which, with a few flicks of the finger, can connect you to the internet. There, you can find pretty much anything you want, interact with millions of people from all over the world and, through the supposed anonymity of a screen, say things that you’d never imagine saying in public.

One of the more frequent things I come across – said both via comments on the EAGLE Facebook page and on my personal social media timelines – is [insert headline of choice here] is fake news.

It’s a phrase that’s grown tiresome, not because it doesn’t hold validity but in the perverse way that people have taken a phrase that actually does have some merit and twisted it to mean something entirely different.

Fake news is definitely out there, and its existed for generations. The problem now is that you can click on any random Facebook post and find yourself on a blog that’s made up of nothing more than thousand-word rants dressed up as a news story.

Fake news isn’t new. It’s just more accessible.

Gullibility is a problem, too. People will believe just about anything, especially when you consider the heart of the matter: Fake news is usually code for ‘I disagree with this story, therefore it’s not true.’

What a frightening thought. Everything we dislike is automatically false.

I guess that means all that broccoli my mom made me eat as a kid was just a figment of my imagination.

In some arenas, it’s a popular statement that journalists have an agenda. We’re either too liberal or too conservative. Either we aren’t telling the truth at all, or we are only telling the part that we agree with in terms of our own personal politics and beliefs.

Some journalists do have an agenda, there’s no denying that. But it’s also a stereotype, much like how all Mississippians are illiterate farmers without electricity and indoor plumbing. One shady journalist doesn’t spoil the whole bunch.

But even beyond that, there’s a deeper problem lurking in this society of fake news: consumers are under the perception that journalists are only here to report what they want to read.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Media outlets exist to report what is happening, even if it goes against every single thing you or I stand for. It’s also very possible that the reporter disagrees, too, but much like the quarterback that has to run the play drawn up by his coach regardless of if it’s going to work, the reporter still has to write the news, personal beliefs notwithstanding.

News doesn’t have a side. It has facts. Events that can be measured, fact-checked and vetted through multiple sources.

Should journalists do better? Absolutely. There is always room for improvement, and a lot of the criticism heaped upon us is warranted. But I think there also is something to be said for the consumer, and not being so eager for what you want to hear that you miss what is going on in the world.

In this age where anyone with a laptop and an internet connection can publish anything they wish and call it news, it’s paramount that you and I hold everything we read to a certain measure of expectation.

If it isn’t sourced, if there aren’t quotes from multiple people connected to the situation, if there aren’t links to the sources cited in the article, it’s probably bogus.

Back when Roy Moore was being accused of assaulting a 14-year-old girl, a blog post made the rounds on Facebook where it claimed that the woman, identified as Harley Hannah, had recanted her story via an MSNBC interview with Dan Fitzpatrick.

There are even quotes from Harley, supposedly taken from the interview and, naturally, it was a huge hit with people who felt Moore was being targeted for his political leanings.

But there are a few problems. First of all, Harley Hannah is not the woman that alleged Moore assaulted her when she was 14. That woman is Leigh Corfman.

A simple Google search tells us that Dan Fitzpatrick had not interviewed Corfman or any of Moore’s other accusers. In fact, when I searched back in November, MSNBC hadn’t talked to any of the women across the entire network.

The kicker is that the article originated from a satire website called ReganWasRight. There is even a disclaimer on their page stating that all the articles they publish are false.

But someone clearly picked it up and thought it was true, shared it with others who thought it was true. Some other websites aggregated it and on and on the cycle goes.

And yes, I know people who still believe that Harley Hannah, Moore’s “accuser,” recanted her statement. We talked about it at Christmas.

The adamance from those individuals lies in one main point: they supported Moore, the story aligned with their beliefs, so it automatically became true. It doesn’t matter what evidence you give otherwise, it’s just fake news.

And in so many situations, that’s the case. If it aligns with your beliefs, it’s automatically fact. And if it doesn’t, you’ve probably never read it in the first place.

If there were ever an analogy for sticking your head in the sand…..

Donica Phifer is managing editor of the EAGLE. You can reach her at donica.phifer@oxfordeagle.com

Donica Phifer is Managing Editor of The Oxford Eagle.
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Donica Phifer is Managing Editor of The Oxford Eagle.

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