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Fake News and How to Spot It

by Beth Divine 16 Oct 2018

The past two years have wrought immense changes on the world. Britain has left – or is trying to – the European Union, for no reason other than David Cameron’s hubris and the outright lies of the Leave campaign, the USA seems to have channelled its inner racist and fascist Nazi with alarming enthusiasm and the Middle East’s centuries long war seems to be ramping ever faster towards the day when the last two opponents take aim and kill each other.

The news media have also lost the plot, trumpeting heavily exaggerated and made-up items as gospel, ignoring real news that should make the headlines (Jeremy Corbyn’s huge increase in popularity, the Islamic March for Peace, many other items that don’t fit into the rabble-rousing anti-immigration, anti-Muslim, isolationist, Conservative line…) and chasing celebrities over perceived flaws and failures in order to hold them up for public ridicule like the bodies of criminals being displayed in primitive times.

On top of all of this, we have satirical news items, parodies and comedians cracking ‘jokes’ that seem to be the lonely beacons of common sense and cool calm-headedness.

Into such a world we introduce the characters of Stormy Daniels and Donald Trump: the one a lowly porn star, the other a multi-million, perhaps billion, dollar businessman, recognised all over the world and currently the 45th President of the United States. With these two caught in a he-said, she said slanging match, under the old order of things there would be no doubt who the ‘good guy’ is, with Stormy’s version of events almost certain to be dismissed as a stew of fabrication.

But the truth seems to be the other way around. Trump is coming across, both as president, as celebrity and even as a person, as a bully, a braggart, a liar and – dangerously – as someone who simply doesn’t care about anyone else, especially if his hair-trigger pride and fragile ego are threatened. Stormy Daniels, on the other hand, has shown herself to be a lady full of class and dignity who has, much like Taylor Swift when on the stand, testifying to being groped in public, simply repeated her story over and over, sticking to the facts and refusing to rise in the face of quite horrendous provocation and abuse – not to mention threats against her child, something that should be unthinkable to any civilised and mannerly person.

So, how can the average person tell the difference between a malicious bot and a real person, between fake news and the real deal, or even that more difficult process, how can one winnow out the few kernels of truth from a twisted and garbled version of events?

There is no easy answer. The best way is to read each inflammatory piece of news with an open mind and a cool critical eye – for example, one favourite piece of vegan propaganda is that egg farmers ‘grind little chicks up’ – but they are egg farmers, so where are these little chicks coming from – the eggs should not be fertilised? While there may be some sections of the chicken farming industry where this appalling process happens, but it is unlikely to be on an egg farm, one thinks… And of course, the thought of any small creature being killed so heartlessly is a dreadful thing that should not be countenanced – but hysterical ranting is not the way to make one’s point.

So, decide, with each news piece – do you want to be a mindless ranter, or do you want to be remembered for being fair and honourable at a time when such traits seem to be rarer than precious metals and gemstones?