Is Fake News an Epidemic?

I’ve watched with some annoyance as trust in the mainstream media (whatever that is) has diminished, to be replaced by trust in even less reliable news sources. Many media outlets earned popular contempt by their carelessness with the facts. My observation is that the news media have been more biased toward “shallow” than in any other direction.

From there, it seems, we went from somewhat biased to totally biased, and finally to fake news. It is, I am told, an epidemic. Something must be done! Let’s fix this situation! Just search Google for “fake news” and “epidemic” and you’ll find references. You’ll also find plenty of people blaming social media and others defending it. I’ve even written about it before.

Fake news is really nothing new. It’s called gossip, and it’s just about as accurate. What social media does is provide more efficient distribution. God makes his sun to shine on the just and the unjust and social media smiles on stories both true and false. The context changes, but people remain the same.

What bothers me right now is that people are calling this an epidemic. “Epidemic” is one of those words that are used by people who would like to influence public opinion so as to make us all do something about it. And when you get to the point where someone just has to do something about it, the solution is generally worse than the problem.

In various countries we have calls for government action. But as soon as you have government action on fake news, you have government deciding which news is true and which is false. Whether we like to believe it or not, we in the United States are susceptible to this temptation.

The one and only answer to fake news is for individuals to use good judgment and spread stories that are verifiable, which will include actually reading stories before you share them. And while companies like Facebook and Twitter are not the government, they might well do better not to get into the truth filtering business, or at least be very careful.

Seeking truth is up to each one of us. As long as there are people who will post, share, and tweet things that are unverified, and other people who will read them and believe them, we’ll have fake news. You can channel it a bit, but you won’t get rid of it.

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