Misinformation seems to be everywhere. The White House has been putting out false claims about the effectiveness and extent of the federal government response in Puerto Rico. Misrepresentations have been made by Cabinet members about their need to fly on non-commercial jets. Also, there are now many reports that fake news was widely spread by the Russians through Facebook and Twitter.
Then on a personal level, there is a former classmate of mine who continuously told me there is no global warming taking place and that President Franklin Roosevelt was a witch. My classmate also claimed that using colloidal silver could cure cancer. When I asked him to show me some information or facts that supported his statements, he would provide some Internet articles which said exactly what he had stated. Yet interestingly, the articles had no data, science or any other “real” facts. The writing on colloidal silver just looked phony, and what it said about curing cancer did not sound believable. Additionally, the reality is the National Institutes of Health and other health care sources state that the product can cause irreversible and damaging physical effects, including the possibility of causing a user’s skin to permanently turn bluish-gray.
In the current political and cultural environment, there are many people who – like my classmate – simply repeat their beliefs, claims or opinions as the truth. Examples are endless. They include that President Obama was born in Kenya, that the southern U.S. Border is being overrun by some very bad people (including rapists) that Mexico is sending and that President Trump’s inaugural ceremony had the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration. None of these statements, claims or opinions, is true, and there are no “real” facts that support them. In fact, they can be proven to be false. Just like the misinformation discussed above and the North Korean account that the Korean War was the result of an invasion of the North by the U.S. and South Korea. However, the people who present these incorrect and false facts continue to repeat them as if they become true from repetition. Also, with the Internet, Blogs, news programs that are created to look legitimate, and self-publication, something can be offered to support almost any claim of fact or news.
It is very good to be a student at the University of Nevada, Reno, where false myths, fake news, false narratives, alternative information, and purposely biased information can be examined through fact-checking, debate, and de-construction. In addition, studies and research can be done, and science can be used to determine whether claims are accurate. Students can and have the ability to ask the right questions, demand real facts and data, and be skeptical and question what they are told to believe until convinced of the truth of statements and claims.
It is worth mentioning that some of the myths, narratives, and alternative-information facts that are presented as news seem to rise to the level of propaganda. On this point, recently Republican governors created a “news” site that critics have labeled as propaganda. Then there is what is suspiciously called the “Real News Update”, which is an online news program published by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. This so-called news has also been described as “propaganda”. While touring the National World War II museum last year, I took notes from an exhibit on propaganda. One of the pieces said that propaganda is “biased information designed to shape public opinion and behavior”, and that it “uses truths, half-truths, or lies”, “omits information selectively”, “simplifies complex issues or ideas”, “plays on emotions”, “advertises a cause”, “attacks opponents”, and “targets desired audiences”. It certainly sounds like fake news and alternative, manipulated information without real facts.
When my former classmate would share his “beliefs” and “opinions” with me, and the articles he claimed were supportive, I would tell him that anyone can make things up and hold an opinion about anything. I also told him that anyone can write an article or paper on any topic, produce false news, or provide fabricated facts and misinformation. The Internet, radio, and some TV programming are filled with such things. It might be that Facebook and Twitter are also used to transmit false news stories. Those who like or agree with the fake information can and do forward it on, use it as support for their opinions, and the alternative version of the “real” facts get circulated.
But real facts cannot be changed. The meaning of the facts can be debated, but not the truth of the facts. Those facts have been subjected to inquiry, analysis, science, and research. There is objective proof of their accuracy. While people can try to misuse or “spin” those facts, or selectively provide alternative facts, the proven, correct “real” facts lead to and tell the truth.