It isn’t that I spend all my day on Facebook, but I do visit the social media page every day to see what’s going on with my friends, what’s going on in the New York Times, Washington Post, the Kansas City Star, and other newspapers across the country, and who in my weight lifting group is showing off her big muscles. I am always distressed to see some of my friends’ postings that include items that are patently false and “news” that is presented in a questionable manner.
This past week, for instance, I saw one posting by a long-time friend that opened my eyes. It said Malia Obama had been arrested again. Right underneath the posting, Facebook, to its credit, had inserted a big fat box with a big fat red X that said, “This posting is found to be false by (some fact checking organization whose name I can’t remember right now).” Intrigued, I went to my computer and researched the claim that Malia Obama had been arrested again and found, sure enough, that it was false – as was the word “again.” Malia Obama has never been arrested, though stories claiming that she has been have been circulating on social media for over a year.
I pointed out in a reply to my friend’s post that her story was fake. She said something like she saw that but wondered why it had gotten that far. It had gotten that far because people post things on social media that are not true, and then others re-post them, not because they are true, but because they like what they say.
I have no illusions about my ability to stop the proliferation of fake news; however, I will not stop talking about people’s responsibility to check for the truth of the matter before spreading it across the world as gospel.
The Sedalia Democrat is doing its part, too. Every Saturday, the paper carries an Associated Press piece: “NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn’t happen this week.” The article certainly cannot address every piece of fake news that bursts onto social media and cable news in one week, but it should give readers pause to realize: if THIS makes it into the social fabric, how much else is out there?
This past week, the first story in that article addressed a false claim that Hunter Biden, now a household name, received $1.76 million from Amtrak. Turns out, according to the Associated Press, that President George W. Bush appointed Mr. Biden to the Amtrak board of directors in 2006, and he stayed on the board until February 2009, the month after his father became Vice President of the United States. During that time, the younger Biden was paid $32,850, which are “per diem fees paid for attending 43 board meetings, according to Amtrak records.” This amount is a far cry from $1.76 million, and it seems to be a legitimate payment for someone who had to travel to be on a national board of directors.
I understand that Hunter Biden is an easy target these days; one wonders at his judgment because he accepted work in a foreign company while his father was Vice President. He also has dealt with addiction, testing positive for cocaine and being dismissed from the Naval Reserve in 2014. Those facts do not mean he is fair game for lies and distortions, either by design by social media “trolls” or by unquestioning patrons of social media innuendo.
Our country is divided right now on issue after issue, and I remember these same kinds of divisions in the late 1960s. But a 24-hour news cycle and social media were not extant at that time. Those things, in my opinion, exacerbate the heightened discord we see every day – on television and through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and a variety of streaming “news” services.
I implore each of us to do our parts in stemming the rushing river of distortion and outright lies. Before you accept something as true and spread it around because it comports with your view of the truth, do me a favor. In the words of my mother, “Look it up.”