A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: More and more, we must separate the factual wheat from fake news chaff

“In today’s digital age, it can often be challenging for consumers to determine what information is truly reliable. But whether it goes by the name of ‘propaganda,’ ‘hype,’ or ‘spin,’ it is possible for news readers to identify ‘fake news’ and avoid it entirely.”

So said Laura Harvey, a reporter for The Messenger, Madisonville’s newspaper, in a recent article about how discerning consumers can sort the factual wheat from fake news chaff.

According to the Pew Research Center, Facebook leads every other social media site as a source of news. Specifically, about two-thirds of Americans (66 percent) use Facebook, and a majority of those users get news on the site. Looked at as a portion of all U.S. adults, this translates into just under half (45 percent) of Americans getting news on Facebook.

Whether casual or compulsive in keeping up with current events, you may, on occasion, need to do some quick research to avoid reaching a faulty conclusion.

A case in point happened the other day when I came across a Facebook posting by an old friend that said, “Today Trump donated another quarter of his yearly salary. This time to rebuild military cemeteries. Why wasn’t this on the news?”

The question caught my attention, so I thought I’d check it out. A quick click on factcheck.org revealed the full answer.

The truth is that the president does donate his salary to different government initiatives each quarter. To date, however, no donation has been specifically made to repair military cemeteries. Nor has he donated $400,000 — a whole year’s pay — to one specific cause.

Nevertheless, an Aug. 1 headline on the Gateway Pundit told readers otherwise. “Trump Gives $400,000 to Repair Military Cemeteries — Liberal Media Ignores the Story,” it reads.

It pains me to think that smart people (like my old friend) are so easily duped by fake news, especially when a little research and a few keystrokes would reveal the truth. Moreover, an act of generosity is overshadowed just to take a swipe at the so-called Liberal Media.

Thousands shared and reacted to the Gateway Pundit story on Facebook. The only evidence to back up the false claim was a widely shared tweet by New York-based radio host Mark Simone, who said that Trump has donated his annual salary for “construction and repair needs at military cemeteries” but that the “media gave this no coverage.”

Seems to me that, in an era where social media rules, responsible readers – whatever their political leanings or affiliations — need to check out click-bait stories and to stop passing them on.

Jennifer P. Brown, programming chair of Kentucky’s Institute on Rural Journalism and Community Issues, and former editor of Hopkinsville’s “Kentucky New Era,” suggests five useful resources for checking a story’s veracity:
 
http://www.opensecrets.org
https://www.factcheck.org
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker
https://www.politifact.com
https://www.snopes.com


What a relief to ignore the blinking cursor and write about hydrangeas and the lessons they teach about living gracefully, beginning to end.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com. 

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