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How to Fight Fake News

by Chris CounteyMarch 6, 2017
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Fake news. Or put another way, lies or opinions touted as facts. Fake news occurs when a person or company broadcasts lies to a large number of people. Fake news itself is a story that’s getting a lot of attention, but I think there is too much emphasis on the media. Media with an agenda and influencers are the issue.

Along the same lines, there is a lot of focus on Trump and his statements, primarily on Twitter. He blasts the media for touting fake news, but Donald Trump is just as guilty as they are.


Please sign my Change.org petition: Enact a Law to Punish Elected and Appointed Officials and Staff for Lying in Public


The real problem is that it’s getting harder for all of us to find the truth. We (hopefully) want to make our own decisions based on facts. New media, not your standard news sources, have become more influential in things spanning from what makeup to buy to who should be elected President.

Facts versus Opinions Accepted as Facts

With the ability to share facts instantly also came the ability to create them. That’s a nice way of saying, “I have 4.2 billion Twitter followers. Whatever I say must be true” or “My news website has millions of daily visitors, so anything I publish is obviously fact”.

My industry calls topical experts “influencers” and with good reason. People who are considered experts in their field have the ability to sway public opinion on a massive scale. A famous gamer who endorses the laptop that helped her secure a championship. A teenager who tests out makeup on YouTube. A billionaire that touts himself as the solution to all of our problems.

With the ability to share facts instantly also came the ability to create them.

Brands blur the line between fact and opinion quite often. It’s called marketing and it’s what we do when we’re trying to sell the latest and greatest gadget or service. But when we’re just looking for factual information, especially as it pertains to our money, our health, and our society, the line between marketing and truth needs to be better defined.

Google even has a name for this when it comes to search results: YMYL, or Your Money or Your Life. Searches for things that could impact your life in a meaningful way are looked at differently.

YMYL stands for “Your Money or Your Life” pages and are comprised of pages that are important enough that, were they low-quality, they could have a potential negative impact on a person’s life, income, or happiness. As a general rule, the pages that Google requires to be written by experts are known as YMYL pages.

Julia Spence-McCoy, SEMRush

An influencer’s opinion is dangerous because it can become “fact” to millions of people with just a few keystrokes. A subjective blog post or a tweet can be taken as fact depending on the size of the author’s microphone and become the basis of which millions make a decision. Which laptop to buy. Which makeup to try. Which person to elect.

Agenda is at the root of the dangerous opinions-are-facts movement. Truth is not swayed by money, power or viewership. In the past, the sources for this real knowledge were encyclopedias.

In the past, the sources for this real knowledge were encyclopedias.

Brief History of Recording History

Before you make a decision about anything based on a YouTube video, a Facebook comment or a news article, consider this: is what you’re reading fact without bias or is there an agenda? Read this brief history:

The Greek approach was to record the spoken word. The Romans, on the other hand, aimed to epitomize existing knowledge in readable form. Their first known effort is the Praecepta ad filium (“Advice to His Son”; c. 183 BCE), a series of letters (now lost) written by the Roman consul Marcus Porcius Cato (known as Cato the Censor) to his son. Cato’s intention was to provide a summary of useful information that could help in the process of living and in guiding and helping one’s fellow men.

Here is another excerpt (full text):

“In using a reputable encyclopaedia, the reader is inclined to accept the authenticity of any article he or she happens to read. Subconsciously the reader is aware that the highly organized staff of scholars credited for the work must inevitably have ensured the scrutiny of all material. Nevertheless, over the course of the 20th century, editors of encyclopaedias tended more and more to commission signed articles by well-known experts. For its 1922 supplement, Britannica commissioned articles from some of the most famous men and women of the day: “Belgium” by the Belgian historian Henri Pirenne; “Anton Ivanovich Denikin” by the Russian-born jurist and historian Sir Paul Vinogradoff; “Drama” by St. John Ervine, the British playwright and novelist; “Czechoslovakia” by the Czech statesman Tomáš Masaryk; and “Russian Army” by Gen. Yuri Danilov. This created a new dimension in encyclopaedias, for it introduced a personal element on a scale previously seen only in the columns of the Encyclopédie. There is in fact a difference in the treatment of a subject written by a politician such as Masaryk and by an academic historian of distinction. Each writer has something important to offer, and the results will be very different.

Encyclopaedia writing requires teamwork in which each article is edited in relation to others closely connected by subject. If a writer makes a statement that is partly qualified or totally contradicted in another article, the contributions of both writers must be scrutinized by the editorial staff, whose job it is to effect some kind of eventual agreement. Truth can be viewed from many standpoints, and references to any controversy may produce problems demanding all the skill and tact of the editors to resolve, particularly when the reputation of the writer is at stake in a signed article.”

History is Repeating… Hopefully

After reading (what I hope was mostly factual) the history of the encyclopedia, I am actually hopeful. The encyclopedia has gone through the same stages of influence, bias, and agenda that the internet is experiencing right now. But somewhere along the line, truth became the agenda for resources like encyclopedias – a light at the end of the tunnel for the digital age.

If what you’re reading or watching is attempting to sway your opinion in any way, consider the possibility that the “facts” being offered are actually opinions. Many of us have become “ad blind” on the internet, but I think we should start paying more attention to them. Not to what they say, but if they exist. Not all web pages with ads are trying to change your opinion, but the chances are high that a page devoid of advertisements has only one intention: to inform you.

What are the agendas for the following pages?

Notice that the Wikipedia entry (and all of Wikipedia pages period) are missing ads.

 

In contrast, this Snopes article is littered with ads.

What is the agenda for this page?

With all due transparency, this page was written by one person. It has advertisements and includes a mix of facts and opinions. However, I feel I have created a clear division between the two. And it has a few agendas:

  1. To encourage Wix to remove the links that give its SEO Hero entry an unfair advantage (or at least add a nofollow to the links from Wix.com). I really like Wix’s entry and feel it can win on its own merit. However, don’t underestimate the size and passion of the SEO community (read more about the Wix SEO contest here)
  2. To ask that you look at the internet through a different lens. If you’re just looking for facts to form your own opinion, reconsider where you get those facts. If the “facts” are trying to change your mind about a topic, they aren’t really facts.
  3. This last one is a personal request. Before you respond to something you don’t like, political or otherwise, consider your own agenda and the value of your time. Is the negative comment you’re about to make adding any value?

I also encourage you to sign my petition to enact a law that would punish politicians for lying in public.

About The Author
Chris Countey
I am a Technical SEO Manager in Philadelphia by day and gamer by night. All opinions and bad jokes here and on social media are my own and do not represent the beliefs of any organization.

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