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What Is Fake News?

A phrase that became popular during the rise of candidate Donald Trump to the presidency is “fake news.” But, what does that mean? What is fake news?

There are two kinds of fake news. One kind is obvious, which I won’t be discussing in detail: a news story that is a complete hoax and also can’t be classified as performance art or satire. In other words, total fiction that isn’t even remotely true. If you want to learn how to identify that, visit a Fact Check website such as Snopes.

The other kind of fake news is more insidious. It’s the kind you often find on mainstream national news networks such as CNN, ABC, MSNBC, and Fox News. What is this second kind of fake news?

“Fake News” is any kind of news article or broadcast that is designed to mislead the readers or viewers into false conclusions. It’s an actual story that happened in real life, but the way it’s presented is disingenuous. The presentation of a news story alone can make it easy to determine whether or not something is fake news. However, sometimes, you have to check multiple unrelated sources to figure this out. I’ll make a list of signs you can use to identify a fake news story on your own.

1.) Race Baiting

One easy method of identifying fake news is whenever you notice a story is presented in a way that highlights people’s races or ethnicities for seemingly no reason. For example, if you see a headline or video title that reads WHITE WOMAN SLAPS BLACK TEENAGER, you should immediately be cautious of whatever the story or video says. In particular, you need to look for evidence that race is relevant before taking the story seriously. If there’s no solid evidence of racial slurs or profiling, chances are quite high the story was designed to influence you in a negative way.

Sometimes, race baiting is very easy to identify if it’s not already in the headline or video title. Look for tribal language in the description of the story. A statement that creates a victim group and an oppressor group out of an isolated incident is a dead giveaway. The victim group will be a certain race and the oppressor group will be a different race. Occasionally, these kinds of statements will have some truth to them, but they almost never tell a complete story.

Another way to spot race baiting is to look for a good guy/bad guy dichotomy. This is slightly different from a victim/oppressor narrative because it paints both races as equal, but asserts that one race is good while the other is evil. Of course, this kind of race baiting doesn’t always come as a cut and dry remark. It will often be disguised using language such as “most of them” or “many of them.” Either way, if those phrases are being used to demonize an entire race, chances are the author or broadcaster is engaging in race baiting.

On a more advanced level, race baiting can come in the form of somebody bringing up dark history pertaining to a specific race. In the United States, there’s always somebody who brings up the terrible ways black people have been treated by the government and white supremacists in the past. Most of the time, it’s somebody bringing up slavery, which was abolished in the US in 1865. Other times, a person may filter a current statement through a historical context, which is dishonest. For example, the Roseanne Barr tweet that gained national media coverage earlier this year:

roseanne barr tweet

“VJ” is an abbreviation for Valerie Jarret, a former employee of the Obama Administration. Since Valerie Jarret is (at least partially) black and Roseanne’s tweet contained the word “apes”, race baiters had an easy job with their character assassination of Roseanne Barr. What did they do?

They focused only on the “apes” portion of the tweet instead of its entirety. After doing that, the race baiters interpreted the tweet through a historical context. More than a half century ago, real racists were a large segment of the US population and they commonly compared black people to apes or monkeys. This was done to dehumanize blacks. However, if you take a statement from a comedian in 2018 and pretend like it’s 1940, you’re being dishonest and misleading. There’s no evidence that Roseanne intended for her tweet to be interpreted in a historical context. Matter of fact, it’s possible she just randomly thought of this joke and sent out the tweet without thinking very much. But, that doesn’t matter to race baiters because they love to spin a good story that makes people mad. DON’T FALL FOR THIS KIND OF STUFF.

2.) Expanding Responsibility

Another popular method of fake news is whenever somebody expands responsibility to include people who were not involved in a particular incident. For example, the recent pipe bomber who sent bombs to various public figures through the mail was covered by mainstream media in a misleading manner. They tried to place responsibility on President Trump for the bombs in an attempt to anger the audience. To show this in action, here is a video that Washington Post uploaded on 25 October 2018:

Almost every left-leaning mainstream media outlet borrowed that phrase or used the phrase “known critics of President Trump” to convey the same cunning message. The purpose was to redirect any public anger from the pipe bomber to the president.

If you want to see a pure propaganda video using the expanding responsibility tactic, here’s an absurdly transparent example from USA Today posted on 27 October 2018:

Don’t fall for this subtle manipulation!

3.) Incomplete Statistics

You’ll be able to identify this fake news tactic easily. Any set of statistics that raises more questions than answers, but the story never asks these questions, falls into this category. Whenever you hear a broadcaster report statistics on a specific topic, pause for a moment to ask yourself “what else would I need to know to get a more complete picture of this problem?” That’s all you have to do.

One common statistic gun control advocates use is the number of gun violence deaths in the United States for any given year. We’ll say it’s 30,000 “gun violence deaths” they’re talking about. Well, that statistic by itself raises more questions than it answers because it doesn’t tell you the following information:

—How many were suicides?

—What types of firearms were used?

—How many were accidental gunshots?

—How many were ruled as “justifiable homicides” (aka. self-defense)?

This is especially dishonest when the gun control advocate claims to desire prevention of gun violence against others because the majority of gun deaths in the United States are suicides. If they’re not focusing on shootings that are actually homicides, they’re misleading you on purpose. They should also be focusing on gunshots fired at others that didn’t result in death to paint an honest picture of reality, but this is uncommon to see (unfortunately).

Since I used a left-wing example of incomplete statistics, I’ll now draw attention to a more recent example from the right-wing. When somebody is arguing against single-payer healthcare, that person will normally cite the national total cost of such a program. However, they will omit the cost of the current healthcare system. This is misleading because the cost of single-payer, on its own, is totally meaningless if you’re not comparing it to the cost of a different system (or at least our current system in the US).

4.) Out of Context Quotes

Yet another fake news tactic is the use of quotes that are technically real quotes, but leave out important things the quoted person stated before or after that. In other words, the quote, by itself, doesn’t give you an accurate idea of what the person actually meant. For example, a media outlet might quote a public figure saying something ridiculous or inflammatory. The NY Times does this on a regular basis. If you see a quote or video clip of a public figure making a statement that sounds absolutely crazy, the best way to determine whether or not it’s fake news is to find the full text of what the person said. If, after reading or hearing what the public figure said before/after the original quote, it makes a lot more sense, you know the original quote was used in a fake news story.

5.) Emotionally Charged Headlines

This tactic is most often used by popular media outlets, but it’s also sometimes used by mainstream media outlets. Let me define those two terms.

—Popular Media Outlet: A media outlet with over 100,000 subscribers or followers, but not as “reputable” as other media outlets. I placed the word reputable in quotes for good reason.

—Mainstream Media Outlets: A media outlet with millions of subscribers or followers that almost everybody in the United States has at least heard about. It’s difficult to find even a preteen American citizen who has never heard of CNN, for example. That’s the only thing separating “popular” from “mainstream” in my definitions: how well-known the outlet is to the general public.

One example of what I would call a Popular Media Outlet is The Daily Wire, which is known for its business association with political commentator Ben Shapiro, its Editor-In-Chief. An example of a Mainstream Media Outlet is Washington Post, whose slogan is “Democracy dies in darkness.” If you read some of their stories, you might find yourself in darkness, so they are presumably spearheading the death of democracy.

Now that I’ve defined those two things, let me explain what I mean by Emotionally Charged Headlines. If a headline contains a verb or adjective with an emotional connotation, it’s likely to be accompanied by some level of falsehood within the news story itself (or the video, whichever it may be). Of course, this doesn’t mean the news story will be fake news, but it definitely increases the likelihood of that tremendously.

Adjective Examples: Amazing, Exclusive, Unbelievable

Verb Examples: Destroys, Owns, Embarrasses

These are only examples and, like I said, an emotionally charged headline doesn’t necessarily mean the story will be fake news. However, it’s a yellow flag: be cautious. Also, nouns that are emotionally charged, such as “bombshell” are more than yellow flags; they’re red flags.

Last, but certainly not least, if a headline or video title contains any or all words in ALL CAPS, be incredibly skeptical of what you’re about to read or watch.

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