US-eh, er, Elections—2016

Okay, let me admit off the top that we don’t need any more opinions about the Trump-Clinton Clash dominating news from our neighbour to the south. This isn’t about the simple horror….

It’s about two related things, however: first, the way this event has grabbed our attention, and second, what it’s revealing about all of us—and the age in which we live.

So, I’ll be brief, and simply point you to a couple of recent articles that got me thinking. Not since September, 2001, have my wife and I been so absorbed by an unfolding news story and had so many discussions about the anxiety and mixed emotions it generates in us. Like most people, we don’t see any end in sight, even when the electoral decisions are made on November 8, or whenever they become “finalized.”

The link below helped us realize that we’re not alone. You may want to give it a look, too.

Is America addicted to this election?

electionaddictionillo
Data, information, misinformation, disinformation, deception and lies….

No doubt, there will be further musings in this blog after the votes are counted next week….

My second focus on is an old pet peeve of mine—Internet hoaxes. In my past life as a computer consultant to seniors, I spent a lot of time trying to teach people how to approach with reasonable skepticism “the stuff they find on the Internet,” or more importantly, “the stuff their friends send them via email,” and increasingly, the stuff they read on social media like Facebook and Twitter and so many other outlets.

All Internet users, and seniors, especially, are subjected to diabolical schemes, such as phishing, designed to hurt them, defraud them, steal their identities, and more. For a refresher, check out this link: Phishing and other ‘Net Phrauds

One of the latest threats is called Fake News. For some of us, Fake News that is satirical can be quit entertaining. On CBC (radio and online) there’s a program I love listening to called “This is That.” Here’s how it’s described on that source of all facts holy, Wikipedia:

“The program began as a summer replacement in 2010, returned in the summer of 2011, and was added to the regular schedule in the fall of 2011. It is hosted by Pat Kelly and Peter Oldring, and produced by Chris Kelly.”

this-is-that

 Its “…style has been compared to The Onion, has drawn phone calls from listeners who did not realize that they were listening to a comedy program and took the content seriously; Oldring and Kelly admit to having been surprised that listeners would be fooled.

In June 2010, the National Post reported as fact that CTV purchased the set of the NBC series Friends;[4] this, however, was a satirical story by This Is That.

Two years later, esteemed Canadian journalist Robert Fulford wrote an article for the National Post claiming that the show is “worth tuning in for.”

Also in 2012, Public Radio International reported as fact a This Is That story that dogs in Montreal would have to know commands in both English and French by law.

In early 2013, Harper’s reported as fact a This Is That story in which a Canadian student “sued her university for failing to accommodate her allergies to cactuses, escalators, tall people, and mauve.”

In September of the same year, several media organizations, including USA Today and the Washington Times, reported on a story about an U-11 organization that had decided to play soccer without a ball to remove competition from the game.

In 2014, Jonathan Jones at The Guardian wrote an article analyzing the satire in their story about a New York artist creating invisible art and selling it for millions.[11]

The program has won three Canadian Comedy Awards. Their comedy special “The Christmas Letter” won a gold medal in the category of Best Comedy Special at the 2014 New York Festivals International Radio Awards[14] and their fourth season won a bronze medal in the category of Best Regularly Scheduled Comedy Program at the same awards ceremony.

Clearly a little satire disguised as a news is a dangerous thing…. And this brings me to the second article from the beginning of this week that jolted me to write about it.

Not surprisingly, in view of what I’ve written above, we love to watch Brian Stelter’s Sunday program on CNN, Reliable Sources. It’s great to see a real effort to examine the difficulty in trying to sort out facts from opinions, and opinions based on facts from claims that are pure hyperbole, and the whole gamut in between. Last week’s show, however, included Brian’s highlighting of and warning about Fake News that’s meant not to entertain, but to deceive. Stelter’s Sunday comments were reproduced online in this article on Monday: The plague of fake news is getting worse….

cnn-stelter-fake-news-is-getting-worse-161030

“The rise of social media has had many upsides, but one downside has been the spread of misinformation. Fake news has become a plague on the Web, especially on social networks like Facebook. As I said on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” on CNN, unreliable sources about this election have become too numerous to count.

So that’s why I recommended a “triple check before you share” rule.

New web sites designed to trick and mislead people seem to pop up every single day. For their creators, the incentives are clear: more social shares mean more page views mean more ad dollars.

But the B.S. stories hurt the people who read and share them over and over again. Many of these fakes reinforce the views of conservative or liberal voters and insulate them from the truth. The stories prey on people who want to believe the worst about the opposition.

A recent BuzzFeed study of “hyperpartisan Facebook pages” found that these pages “are consistently feeding their millions of followers false or misleading information.”

The less truthful the content, the more frequently it was shared—which does not bode well for the nation’s news literacy during a long, bitter election season.”

Stelter goes on to assert:

“Fake news sites and Facebook feeds…traffic in misinformation. My sense is that there are three buckets of these sites:

#1, Hoax sites with totally made-up news headlines that try to trick you;

#2, Hyperpartisan sites that aren’t lying, per se, but are misleading, because they only share good news about your political party and bad news about the other party;

#3, “Hybrids” that purposely mix a little bit of fact and then a lot of fiction.

These sites aren’t going away, so it’s up to Internet users to spot fake news and avoid spreading it.

Fact-checking sites like Snopes can help—they are devoted to ferreting out hoaxes and tricks.

The Sunlight Foundation’s Alex Howard tweeted these tips:

  • Search the source link on Twitter

  • Google it

  • Check Snopes

  • Consider record of source”

So, if you’re addicted, especially to the perils of social media or simply google search results, join the club, and may the force (not the farce) be with us!

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