Monday, May 8, 2017

Countering Fake News

    In prior installments, we took a look at Redrum "News", a really pathetic website that peddles fake news, and at Why Fake News Matters.  Here, we will talk about what you can do when confronted with fake news.

     We can start by asking people for a more credible source anytime we don’t recognize a source as mainstream.  If people get no payoff for reading hyper-partisan websites but instead are forced to do extra work to back up their alleged sources, then the reinforcement for using these garbage news sites is cut down.  This is a completely legitimate move in debate.  Each party has the burden of proof to make its case.  Sites like these that have a history of misinformation and outright lies should be rejected.

     When a person is told that you reject their source, they have a few different responses to choose from.  First, they can refuse to provide a credible source.  Remember, you do not bear the burden of disproving their position.  Each side bears its own burden of proof, and you get to examine their evidence and, if warranted, criticize or reject it.  (This works both ways though. We also have the burden of proof for our positions.)  If they refuse, then you have a couple options.  You can be extremely polite and inform them that in a civil society it is their responsibility to prove their own argument.  Then inform them that no conversation is possible if they aren’t willing to behave like responsible, civil adults.  Alternatively, if they are annoying, then you can simply tell them that they lose because they have no evidence 1.

     Second, they can come back with another questionable source.  When this happens, just repeat the rejection.  As we’ve shown here with Redrum “News,” many of these fake news sites will recycle (or steal) fake news stories from other fake sites with no attribution.  It would be polite to give the article a quick look before dismissing it out of hand.  Who knows, this may be an up and coming reliable source 2.  However, if you see hyper-partisan writing, or what appears to be a recycling of the same questionable original source, then you are within your rights as a rational person to reject that source as well.  Mainstream sources are much more likely to rigorously fact check.  That imparts value to them as a credible source.

     Third, they can come back with a respectable source.  Even mainstream sources, however, are not always reliable.  For example, based on the Farleigh-Dickinson studies, I do not trust Fox news on any issue regarding the Iraq war (and on many military-related issues as well.i  If a conservative wants to quibble, then we can handle that too.  For example, the link above is to Business Insider, which seems to be a new mainstream source with a slight liberal bias.  However, remembering the value that mainstream media outlets provide by scrutinizing their own articles, I can also give this source from Forbes ii, which leans right.  If they want to quibble over the study itself, then also have this piece from Mediaite that evaluates the validity of the study itself 3,iii.

     Keep in mind that when debating extreme partisans, especially Trump supporters, the playing field will never be even.  If conservatives cite fake news 38% of the time and liberals 20% of the time, they will use that to claim that the amount of fake news is dead even.  (As we said in the previous installment, we can't expect the Party of Stupid to be good at math.)  Unfortunately, we have seen this happen with extreme partisans of the liberal persuasion as well4.   Thus, when debating conservatives, I likewise avoid sourcing MSNBC if possible.  I know they are profoundly more factual than Fox, but they do have a liberal slant that is likely to be (somewhat unfairly) rejected out of hand by conservatives despite the fact that they do scrutinize their own stories.  To compare Breitbart and MSNBC is comparing apples & oranges, and it’s equally wrong to conflate 38 and 20%.  This exemplifies, however, that we liberals must demand better if we want a better nation.  That means demanding better news sources, more critical reasoning, more civility, and more accountability from our elected leaders, our fellow Americans, and ourselves.

Some News Sources to Absolutely Avoid:
Hyper-Liberal Junk News Websites:
Blasting News, 
Addicting Info, 
Bipartisan Report, 
Palmer Report,
Natural News, 
Occupy Democrats, 
US Uncut

Hyper-Conservative Junk News Websites:
The Daily Caller, 
The Daily Stormer, 
The Blaze, 
Red State

Written by Jeramee Sikorski
Contributors: Janet Elaine & Terry McDevitt Bakke

1In the end, it is not actually about winning or losing. This is about engaging in dialogue as a way of finding truth.
2This blog is not a mainstream source, but we do our best to scrutinize and fact-check our sources. We make up for that proxy of mainstream qualifications by citing to other credible sources to back our argument up.
3This source from Mediaite also has a nice link to understand validity based on sample sizes, and a link to 20 questions we should ask about polls.
4From what I have seen in the last few weeks, extreme liberal partisans are no better.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Why Fake News Matters

     In our last post, we took a look at one really egregious website that peddles fake news directed at liberals.  We have actually seen liberals try to defend these misinformation sites on the basis that conservatives do it too!  Besides the silliness of the they-do-it-too argument, there are several good reasons why we liberals cannot afford to let this garbage into our minds.  It will be a long process to get rid of Trump, and we cannot afford to let our focus divert if we are to keep him from destroying our American values.  Further, we do not know who all the people are that are making these fake stories, and it could be the same Putin-paid trolls that helped to swing the election for Trump to begin with.  Finally, the Republicans have already staked out being the party of stupid.  It’s never a good strategy to fight for the low ground.

     There is no quick fix to the Trump problem, and history provides a guide here.  Watergate happened in June of ‘72 – a few months before Nixon’s election.  The facts and ramifications of Watergate were slow to come out.  It was a slow trickle like what is happening with Trump right now.  It was not until August of ‘74 that Republican leaders went to Nixon and told him that the votes were there to both impeach him in the House of Representatives and remove him in the Senate.  Republicans leaders only did so because they were staring down an election that was shaping up to be absolutely brutal wave electioni.  The Democrats gained 49 seats in the House and 3 in the Senate that year.  Those results could also give the Democrats control of both chambers in 2018ii.

Yes, he really did make the victory sign on his way out.
You can see video of it below.
Source: Wikimedia

     However, if that is going to happen, we need everyone focused and paying attention to what matters.  This is similar to Aesop’s fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper.  We can choose to play right now while there does not seem to be anything urgent demanding our attention, but we do so at the cost of future choices.  We need to be honest: the Democrats are awful at messaging, so every one of us needs to keep our head in the game, which cannot happen when your head is filled with fake news.  If we don’t put in the work now, then there will be no harvest in 2018, and that could mean suffering for millions more than are already feeling the hate of the Trump regime.  It’s not just you or me, it is our neighbors, friends, and family that will also feel this hateful wrath.

     Also, we must expect dirty tricks that would make Nixon blush.  As we have reported at length, Trump Trolls have no qualms with destroying our discussion forums, which take time to build up in membership.  While we have some idea how these hijackings happen, we are not completely positive.  This is more than just a culture war.  This is a conflict between liberals, who are wasting time quibbling over fake news, and conservatives who are abandoning all of our culture’s values in order to gain a tactical advantage. If we keep getting mired in fake news, we will lose.

     Beyond that, every election is necessarily a battle for hearts and minds.  When people read these hyper-emotional articles, they get angry.  Then, in the comments underneath those articles, they just further whip each other up into a frenzy.  As we have reported here at the Diogenetic Light, it will only take a tiny sliver of voters to change the next election results, but it is up to us to bring those people over to our side.  We cannot expect to make strides forward using the same vitriol with regretful Trump supporters that I see liberals using in every single fake news post.  A little moderation is necessary for us iii We cannot expect that Republicans will do the right thing.  To the contrary, they have possibly shown a willingness to engage in (or at least be accomplices after the fact to) treasonous behavior.  Despite the overwhelming incompetence of not knowing where ships he claimed were heading toward North Korea actually were, we cannot reasonably hope that Trump will be removed for mental incompetence or mental illness.  If it’s going to happen, it’s up to us.

     As liberals, we should also be aware that many of these fake news posts are being written by non-American trolls who use them as click-bait and make money from it.  We have reported a little bit in the Malware, Mole, or Mercenary article about how the group hijackings take place.  We haven’t published the mercenary, or hacker out for monetary gain, portion of that yet because it is quite a tangled web.  At this point, there are some indications that overseas actors are hijacking some groups to get control of a market that makes for easy dissemination of their click-bait.  (They may or may not be related to the trolls that hijacked other liberal groups.)   If these fake articles are being posted by Putin-paid trolls, then not only will they have made money by misleading conservatives to support Trump, but they will also make money by effectively paralyzing the liberal resistance.  Remember, resistance fatigue is real and is part of any effective despot’s plans.  So, why let these (probably paid) trolls spike your blood pressure on a daily basis?  Trump has already taken half the country on a ride, so why let his friend’s trolls put you on an emotional roller coaster?  We need to save our mental reserves for the real fights ahead.

     Beyond needing the help of every able-minded person, we must also recognize the unevenness of the playing field.  I have seen conservatives harp so often that liberals are guilty of the same things that they do, so there’s really no difference.  That’s not true, and veteran reporters from both sides of the aisle will acknowledge that if they are being honest i.  Most of our readers are already aware of the Buzzfeed analysis that found 38% of posts from 3 right wing sites were fallacious, and that nearly 20% of posts from 3 leading left-leaning sites were as well ii.  We liberals don’t get to celebrate that we only have half the fake news coming from our sites when it’s nearly 1 out of every 5 articles for us that are false or misleading.  That arrogant uncle of yours will just say that’s proof that both sides are equally bad and continue watching Fox.  We must do better.  The process of getting rid of Trump began for us on November 8th.  That was 6 months ago.  We must do better now.

     Finally, fake news makes you look like an idiot.  How can we ever hope to get rid of Trump when 2/3 of liberals look like the same damned fools as on the right but with a different team jersey?  Beyond these articles bringing out the absolute worst in people, they also make us look stupid -- all of us, not just the person posting it.  Remember the words of Bobby Jindal: the Republicans have chosen to be the Party of Stupid.  Facts and rationality are our high ground, we cannot afford to give that up.

So, how do we maintain that moral and intellectual high ground?  We will approach that in the next installment, Countering Fake News.

Thank you for reading.  Please feel free to leave comments below.  You can also share with the buttons below, or, if you want to get the latest posts right away, you can click on the "Follow" button at the top right of this page.

If you need a break from all the nastiness and chaos, want a laugh, and would like to see the difference between satire and fake news, then you can check out this piece here:

North Carolina Bans Bigfoot from Restrooms

If your interested in learning how liberals can get better at messaging to win the war of ideas, check out the 4 part series starting with

Don't Call It TrumpCare.