(One of my Montana Arts Council State of the Arts Newspaper Tech Talk Columns)
There’s an old saying that goes “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” I used to think that was true during every election season and hunting season. But now, since word “post-truth” was the 2016 word of the year at Oxford Dictionaries, we now have to be careful about everything we read and believe on the web the year around.
Back before the Internet (yes, I’m that old), we learned our own methods of critical reading, maybe from laughing at the photographs of aliens on the front ages of the “newspapers” in the checkout line of the grocery store. The Facebook of the time was the local bar or cafe, and all news was hardcopy.
Now, we all Share and Like and may over-share in order to network online, and we can click and send something without thinking. Or thinking enough at all.
How do we tell what’s fake? If it’s too good or too weird to be true, it probably is. That’s always been true. But mostly practice good judgment, which is always a good thing on the Internet, because with fake news and scams and phishing and malware, it’s still the wild west.
There is a great Web site – Snopes.com – that comes to the rescue in this brave new world of fake news. Snopes covers the complicated stories behind hundreds of “urban legends” and rumors from politics, movies, religion, and more. And they reveal the facts with extensive research and a seriously good reputation developed over 20 years.
When I wrote this column, the top story was titled “Justin Trudeau Is Fidel Castro’s Love Child”, but other stories were serious, concerning congressional districting gerrymandering, Standing Rock and the 25th Amendment.
Snopes has sections called the 25 Hottest Urban Legends, a “Send a Rumor” link, a Glossary, a 20 year archive and a forum for breaking stories and discussions.
David and Barbara Mikkelson – the people behind Snopes.com – have an extensive “About Us” section that describes their work and their backgrounds. They’ve both been vetted by the major news organizations as well as journalists and folklorists, too.
They even have had to debunk myths about themselves (no surprise) about their funding: they have always been “completely independent, self-sufficient entity wholly owned by its operators and funded through advertising revenues.” And they both have no political affiliations other than voting.
Snopes is particularly busy these days dealing with fake news. And yes, Snopes is on Facebook. Snopes has even handled storied about fake news on Facebook, and fake news about Facebook itself, too.
One can spend hours on Snopes reading about the elements of the truth that are mixed in with the tall tales and fake news. And if you search for “montana”, you’ll find 50 or so rumor results ranging from guns, wildfires, beef, bars, and Hannah Montana, and you’ll also find the facts behind those rumors.