The Plague of Faux News (and I don’t mean Fox News)
The problem with the Internet is that it has so much Internet in it.
The Internet has put us into information overload. It provides us a huge amount of relevant information, but it also subjects us to an increasing onslaught of bad information. Some comes from people with a deeply slanted agenda. Some comes from the misinformed such as, perhaps, the collection of images that circulated this winter of deep snow covering Egypt, which I deconstructed.
And some comes from people who just blatantly make stuff up.
To Be Clever or Not To Be Clever
There are a number of websites entirely devoted to such things. The most well known is The Onion. It makes hilarious fake news, and it’s well known, so it generally doesn’t cause confusion. It’s also satire, which is a perfectly legitimate style of literature.
But there’s a lot of sites which just make things up. Some of them seem to think they’re satire, such as the Diversity Chronicle, whose story of Pope Francis was presented as fact all over the Internet as I discussed in “Pope Francis and the Internet.” If readers don’t understand you’re inventing material, you’ve utterly failed at satire.
But at least the Diversity Chronicle has a disclaimer, although you have to look for it. Some such sites, such as the World Daily News Report, offer no explanation whatsoever that they are inventing facts.
How To Debunk Faux News
This post was inspired by a World Daily News Report article circulating my Facebook news feed this week about the tomb of Attila the Hun being found in Hungary. Like the Diversity Chronicle, the website looks professional. And the article itself is not claiming anything overly-fantastical.
But it’s still BS.
Some things to look for in an article:
- Professional writing. This article has several grammatical errors. Unfortunately, this has also become a problem in actual news sources as well, so it’s certainly not a smoking gun.
- Specific details. This is how I debunk a lot of Satanic conspiracy claims. Real stories have names, dates, places, and other specifics, and this article does a good job providing them. In contrast, the average Satanic Panic tale is about someone somewhere encountering Satanists who made them do “Satanic things” (with any details repeating the same tales as every other Satanic tale) as reported by who the heck knows.
- Do the people and places really exist? The expert quoted here is Albrecht Rümschtein of Lorand Eötvös University. The university is real. You can google it. I can’t immediately get anything on Rümschtein. That’s suspicious, although I won’t swear to the web presence of foreign academics.
- Who wrote the article? Legitimate news has authors. This article doesn’t.
- Dates. When was this tomb found? The article is amazingly silent.
- Who else is reporting it? The identification of Attila the Hun’s tomb would be news (like the discovery of the body of England’s Richard III body last year), yet no one else is covering it.
You can also question the website in general. “Hungary: Archeologists Discover Tomb of Attila the Hun” sounds legit, but check out some of the related topics:
“Incredible Pirate Treasure Discovered in Jamaica” Fair enough. That’s where pirates hung out.
“Chinese Winged Snake, Not Extinct After All.” Ok, pretty weird.
It doesn’t specifically push the idea that Egyptians were ever in the Bahamas. It does, however, imply it was on an “ancient” ship.
Now we’re approaching Atlantis level of theories. There is zero evidence of Old World ships in the Caribbean before 1492. And where does it come from? Doesn’t say. It does stress that the statue almost certainly originated in Egypt:
The chemical analysis of the stone demonstrated that it was almost certainly extracted from a quarry near Wadi Rahanu, an Egyptian region known for its quarrying industry since 3500 BC.
Wadi Rehani really is an ancient Egyptian quarry. Well done. But later it tells us:
the nature of the mineral used in its construction confirms beyond the shadow of a doubt that the statue is of Middle Eastern origin.
Except Egypt isn’t Middle Eastern. Egypt is in Africa. Oops.
So where did the image come from, if not from the Carribean? In this day and age, “Photoshop” is pretty much always a legitimate answer. It would not be hard to take an image of an Egyptian sphinx, put it in a sea scape, and create the appearance of wear and growth on it.
But they weren’t even that creative:
There’s also an amusing typo comparing this to the “Great Sphynx.”
And you can tell from the comments that lots of people think these articles are real, although some are arguing for and others against its facts.
Stop Making Stuff Up
Satire is a medium in which “vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, corporations, government or society itself, into improvement.” (Wikipedia) Jonathan Swift mocked social views of the poor when he suggested impoverished families sell their children to be eaten by the rich. No one thought he was serious.
What commentary are these articles putting forth? Nothing. It’s not satire. I’m not even sure I’d call it fiction, because authors of fiction expect readers to take their works as such. At which point it’s pretty much just lying.
Also, question your Facebook news feed.