Fake news, Faulty news, Vetted news. What is the difference between the three? The first one is easy. Fake news is just that. It is a news story that is made up. It is not true. But, here is the problem. Fake news are sometimes deliberately written for humor purposes. In other words, there may be no intention to deceive. For instance, The Onion and The Babylon Bee regularly publish stories that they regularly acknowledge are false. They openly say and declare that they are humor website and that they publish satirical news stories. But, there are also the fake news that are written with the deliberate intent to deceive. The authors attempt to deceive for any of several reasons. Many countries engage in fake news against their enemies, with the intent of causing confusion in their populace or of getting their own populace to support them. So, fake news are usually considered to be written with intent. But, the intent may be either harmless or harmful.
Faulty news result from a failure to fully investigate a story that is being reported. That is, there is no intent to deceive, but either insufficient work has been done to verify the story, or the news organization has been deliberately deceived. Faulty news can actually be fake news, but simply with no intent. Most faulty news have a basic core of truth, but some elements of the story are inaccurate. Note, however, that when a news organization is deceived, there may be little to no truth in a faulty news story. Faulty news could usually have been correctly written with just a little more footwork and investigative journalism.
Vetted news is just what is sounds like. There is no intent to deceive; the investigative footwork has been correctly done; the story as published is generally correct. Why do I say generally correct rather than totally correct? Because no story can capture every minute detail and every moment of the story. The important point is that there is no intent to deceive, and the story itself is a fair and honest portrayal of events, or the editorial fairly and correctly represents other points of view while advocating its own points of view. Now, it is true that rarely a vetted story turns out to be fake news. However, in every case where that is true, somehow insufficient investigative work has been done and therefore it is actually faulty news rather than vetted news.
One of the problems that humans have–in any culture–is that we tend to believe what is repeated over and over, even if it is thought to be false at the beginning. There are some good studies that show that repetition of the story makes it familiar in your mind, so that even if at first you did not believe it, you start becoming more open to believing that it could be true. Some say that this is how countries like Nazi Germany develop. The repetition of a story that the culture wants to believe, little by little erodes the disbelief and allow a false belief to come in. In the book, “1984,” George Orwell shows an extreme example of a country doing that very thing. North Korea engages in that type of fake news to this very day.
Fake news takes advantage of deliberately publishing those things that we want to believe so that whomever is writing the news can slowly get inside our minds. A “good” fake news story is followed by another one that strikes the same theme, but maybe a little stronger, then another one and another one. For instance, despite good historical proof to the contrary, there are still those who believe that Easter was named after an ancient European goddess named Oestre, and that Christians simply took over her spring festival. This was a fake news story started in the late 18th century, but that various modernists and Anabaptist-like Christians wanted to believe. The well-recorded fact that there are only a couple of cultures where it is called Easter, that in almost every Christian culture it is called Pascha (or Pascua or some such variation), and that the celebration predates the entrance of Christians into the part of Europe where such a name could even have been found is not considered. The repetition of the fake news is more important than the facts.
And, that is the danger of fake news. With both faulty news and vetted news, there is no intent to deceive. Moreover, when those who published a faulty news account are challenged, they correct themselves. Fake news has the intent to deceive and continues to do so even when challenged. The danger of fake news is the danger of ending up with beliefs in the culture that may damage one group or another. For instance, Jews were damaged in Nazi Germany. Christians were damaged by the fake news stories concerning Christmas and Easter. African-Americans were damaged as badly as the Jews by the consistently fake news stories about them. They, in particular, continue to suffer from unjustified shootings by the police, incarcerations that go far beyond the white average both in length and frequency, etc. Native Americans no longer tend to have fake news published about them, but in the 19th century, the fake news about them justified their repression and genocide.
We have been flooded with fake news for the last eight years, in a way that was not present before. Faulty news have been around since the beginning of time. Perfect news stories are essentially impossible, for many reason, too many to discuss in this blog post. But, a culture can tolerate faulty news because they essentially communicate truth and they are willing to be corrected in those parts that are found to be faulty. Well-vetted news are the foundations of a solid democracy. But, fake news in large quantity have been rare outside of a war situation, and have usually been directed at the enemy. But now, we have been almost overcome by fake news, and it is hurting our democracy. (And, yes, I consider that Fox News has helped open the doors to fake news by its consistent faulty news editorials that began to cross the line between innocent mistakes and intent to mislead.)
So, what can we do? First, stop reading those independent “news” sites that are found only on the Internet and claim to have the “real” truth. Phrasing of that type is almost a guarantee that they engage in fake news. Second. stop believing that the main news outlets are all biased against your belief. They may or may not have some reporting bias (look up the term), but by classifying them as not simply faulty, but deliberately biased, you actually begin to believe a falsehood that opens you up to fake news. Third, read a variety of major news sites. There are some good classifications of the various news sites by their political (and other) leanings. However, the major news sites are generally considered reliable. So, deliberately pick several major news sites from different parts of the political (and other) spectrums and read them. Particularly when a hot story emerges, make sure to read the various reports from various reliable publications. You may just end up with a balanced view of what has happened. Fourth, take some type to learn the philosophical discipline of logic. I do not mean get a degree, but there are some good books that are designed for non-college students and that teach you about the various form of argumentation mistakes that you can make. Once you learn those, you will tend to make better arguments.
Finally, we need to be a country that reads, evaluates, and considers news stories before they simply buy into them. Become a person who is careful about what article you share on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Fun memes can also be very dangerous because images stick with us longer than words. Resist that insulting meme that spread either a lie or a completely unbalanced set of facts. Stop being part of the problem. Become part of the solution.