Thursday, December 15, 2016

Fake News is Serious but so are Efforts to Combat it

Fake news is not a joke it is a serious threat to the institution of democracy and planetary health. Indeed it is not overstating the case to say it threatens the very survival of our species. Fake news contributed to Trump's election victory, the Brexit vote in the UK and climate denial. To make good decisions people need to be well informed and this requires that they have access to accurate information.

After her election defeat, Hilary Clinton decried the "epidemic of fake news." She also said, "It’s now clear that so-called fake news can have real-world consequences." Hilary understands that fake news is a serious problem that has implications well beyond the election of 2016. "This isn’t about politics or partisanship. Lives are at risk," she said during a post-election speech on Capitol Hill.

In the most recent election cycle, Republicans bombarded digital media with fake news. According to G Shaw of Daily Kos, the Democrats have proven themselves to be feckless in their understanding of new media.

"Something created a bunch of fake news stories and they caused Democrats to lose. You don’t have to have a deep knowledge of the digital world to understand that."

The alt-right movement continues to dominate the net with a wide range of propaganda. The Democrats have yet to show any signs of understanding how new media factored into their defeat nor have they as yet articulated a cogent digital response.

There was a time when the serious purveyors of misinformation were pseudo-scientific conservative think tanks funded by the fossil fuel industry. They have been at the forefront of misinformation for decades. However, they are no longer the only purveyors of deceit, nor are they the most dominant.

Fake news is now the leading source of misinformation. While fossil fuel front groups tried to cast aspersions on climate science and sew doubt, fake news presents outlandish fabrications as facts. The number of fake news content creators and reach of such information through digital media is staggering.

We are living in dangerous times. When we most need to be reasonable we have become post-factual. We need a clear understanding of the facts if we are to have any chance of addressing serious global threats that we face. We need science-based action to combat climate change. We need a factual understanding of the issues if we are to address serious social problems, like poverty and inequality.

Vast numbers of people are ignoring science and embracing the alternate reality offered by fake news. This is leading to widespread confusion. People often consume the news without considering the source and its veracity. Alternatively, people become cynical and mistrust everything they read including science-based information related to climate change.

Traditional media has proven to be ineffective, they have failed to adequately cover the veracity of anthropogenic climate change and when they do they commonly get it wrong.

Despite the coming darkness, a number of individuals and organizations have vowed to fight fake news. In our post-factual age, there are people of conscience who still believe that facts matter. Among them is Clinton supporter David Brock. He said that Media Matters, a media monitoring arm of Brock's opposition research firm, will develop a coherent strategy to resist fake news.

For more information on how to distinguish fake news from real news by source see the graphic (top left). See Climate Feedback, a site that employs a team of scientists to evaluate the accuracy and credibility of information related to climate change.

How Conservatives Use Fake News to Control the Narrative
Trump and the Darkness of Post-Factual Media
Mainstream Media's Failed Climate Coverage
Mainstream Media is Distorting the Facts about Climate
Popular Media is to Blame for Inaction on Climate Change
The Implications of the Trump Administration's Disdain for Science 
The Science of Storytelling: Making Facts Matter in a Post-Factual World
Why We are Not Seeing More Action on Climate Change
Anti-Science Journalism Helped to End Progressive Climate Governance in Australia
The Slaughter of Innocents: Our Complicity in the Murder of Environmentalists
The Death of Mikhail Beketov and Environmental Journalism in Russia
The Persecution of Environmental Reporters
Environmental Advocacy Through Citizen Journalism

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