Caveat: On fake sensationalized and biased news

Caveat Lector!

Recently, In my Facebook news feed I saw a piece of news about a Canadian freelance journalist talking about how the Western Media were misreporting the events in Aleppo, Syria. The news was not covered by majority of the Western Media but it was available on Youtube and shared on Facebook. Now how would a reader react to this?

So how should one treat the news?

I. A brief history of fake, biased and sensational news

Fake news and biased media is not a new thing as some people believe. William Shakespeare and Thomas like all good Elizabethans painted the last Plantagenet King Richard III as the blackest of the black. A Machiavellian leader who engineered his rise to power by doing the following: (i) Orchestrating the assassination of his brother Clarence; (ii) Declaring his nephews as illegitimate, he was their protector; (iii) Marrying the wife of the man he killed — the crown prince of a rival faction; (iv) Murdering his two nephews (the ones he declared bastards) in the Tower of London; (v) And planning to marry his niece. Richard III died during the Battle of Bosworth Field and lost his crown. His cousin Henry became King, established the Tudor monarchy and the vilification process began. Another astute politician Otto Von Bismarck engineered the Franco-Prussian War when a chance meeting at a spa by the Prussian King and a French Government Official was released to the German Press as an angry exchange of insults leading to a war that led to the defeat of France and unification of the German states undo the Prussian King who assumed the title of Kaiser.Not all fake news and biased media have political goals. A series of fake news appeared in an American newspaper about how a scientist was able to view the inhabitants of the moon with a powerful telescope made by the English Scientist Herschel.

Then there is of course the war between Hearst and Pulitzer to sell their newspapers resorted to tabloid and sensational news. One incident that gave rise to the word Yellow Journalism was fake and sensationalized news that led to the Spanish-American War .

Here we see how fake, biased and sensationalized news have been used for political and economic gains.We still see it near our time when the man who gave the name public relations to propaganda , Edward Bernays contributed to the fall of Guatemalan President by engineering news against the president.Not a small feat for a person who engineered Americans to eat more bacon for breakfast.

The advent of the Internet and social media has made the manufacture and use of fake, sensationalized, biased and slanted news more easier. What made this possible is that media on the Internet can easily be made, posted, shared and changed. It is now easier to find a contrapositive to a positive. To find political pieces that agree with one’s view. The interactivity of the Internet can and has been used to drown counter-arguments and opposite views. Compound this with the glut of information available on-line leading to information overload. It is therefore not surprising that many view that too many fake news are now available.

II. How to deal with fake, sensationalized, and biased news?

To be honest I am often surprised about the cry against fake, biased and sensational news. Maybe it is my cynical nature or training in reference service that makes me always doubt any news that comes my way. It could also be because of the process of triangulation— which is a process in validating a statement by fact-checking

As such when one is confronted a news-piece or opinion always test it because as a buddhist maxim goes if you meet Buddha on the road he is not Buddha. Here are some things to remember when dealing with news, posts and opinions.

First, In general all blog posts are opinions first and its value is based on how true its facts are. As an opinion it is shaped by the personal belief of the blogger. Its validity then rest on its facts and if these facts can stand up to fact checking.

The American film Barcelona explains this adequately in a story about an ant farm. Imagine that the United States is an art farm and someone is writing an article describing the ant farm to readers who have not seen any form of ant farm. .. Now what would the article be like if the writer hates ants or love ants?

Second, Media even the best ones are reflections of their writers, editors and owners’ beliefs. In the election between Trump and Clinton a number of newspapers have openly declared their support for on of the two candidates. Newspapers and other media are mouthpieces of political beliefs and movements. So do a background check on the media you follow and read.

Third, Do not forget that any media — digital or otherwise — when not driven by political objectives do have business objectives. Like Hearst and Pulitzer, They may fall into the trap of sensationalism as a form clickbait to increase their web-stats or their readerships.

Fourth The acid test of any fake news is to test its veracity. And credibility. Questions that needs to be asked include but not limited to the following: (I) Is the web or url address dubious — for example for the Financial Times is it or something different? (ii) What evidence and proofs are shown in the post? (iv) Are these proofs and evidence repeated elsewhere by other established media and institution or better yet on any government site?

So knowing this how do we treat the news of freelance journalist who claimed the Western Media was mis-reporting what was happening in Aleppo, Syria? Ask for hard prood that will back these allegations.

In a world full fake, biased and sensational news — even opinions — it pays to be a doubting Thomas. There is a phrase that says always keep an open mind when encountering something; while this is true it should qualified with a second statement that together should read like this:

Always keep an open mind but do not keep it to open or your mind might fall out.

This post is supported by a writing grant from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)