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.

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