We live in an era where the line between truth and lies are blurred—or as it is fashionable to call them—alternative facts. Thanks to a combination of poorly designed human psychology and unparalleled communications technologies like Facebook, lies spread like a plague before the truth can even get out of bed.
This is having a catastrophic impact upon our policy decisions on all levels of society. Ignoring a problem because the facts are inconvenient will only make the problem worse. When the only option left is to face the problem, it will have already ballooned into an avoidable catastrophe.
As a higher education institution, one of the most critical objectives for Metro State—and all higher education institutions for that matter—is to teach students how to tell reliable information from unreliable information.
I am extremely grateful for our own social science department for being so good at teaching this lesson. I commend the faculty for being an island of facts and data in a sea of fake news.
If you want to avoid the plague of lies, there are steps you can take. The first and most crucial step is to check your sources for facts and bias.
Bias in a source does not always mean it is unreliable, but it does mean you need to evaluate how they present the information. Forbes and The Atlantic may skew right and left respectively, but they both ultimately contain factual reporting and reliable information, so using these sources works.
On the other hand, sites like Breitbart and Occupy Democrats skew extremely far right and left respectively and—in my opinion—are unreliable with their facts. Disregard them like you would a meme or conspiracy theory shared on Facebook by your loveable but unreliable relative.
If you see a story spreading on Facebook that looks legitimate on the surface, make sure to fact-check it. Facebook is one of the most potent streams of fake news. Talk to librarians about how to evaluate sources—they are our resident fact-check experts.
In this era, Snopes is your best friend. Snopes is a fact-checking website that checks the claims of memes, websites, rumors, politicians and celebrities. A lot of the time, they say it is false or mostly false. If the claim is false, they will debunk it.
Another important way to avoid the cancer of alternative facts is to listen to experts. Experts spend years of study and practice to get where they are. It is OK to question or dispute them, but please then turn to other experts in the field. In order to make today’s world run, we need experts on everything.
Objective facts are the very foundation of a stable democracy. They are the bedrock of well-thought-out policies and opinions, reliable research and good government. But when facts are under attack, eventually everything could crumble. We can’t let that happen.
If we are to solve our problems, we all must fight fake news with facts.
Boland is a social science major on the political science track. He is a the Engagement Coordinator of the Student Senate. Views expressed are his own.