Thursday, May 11, 2017

Countering Click-Bait and Fake News

Both the Left and the Right use click-bait and fake news to advance their agendas.  How can we counteract this?  Answer:  By thinking!

A friend comes over today and announces that it is an "outrage!" that Harvard is having a separate commencement for black students.  He read the headline on his smart phone but didn't bother to read the article.  If he did, he'd realize that no, Harvard is not having a "separate commencement" for black students, but rather some student group is holding a fake black commencement as some sort of publicity stunt.

But that requires thought, and at least some reading.

Similarly, another headline on the smart phone today touted that a $65 parking ticket morphed into a $132,000 "nightmare" which again is "outrageous!" if you read just the headline on MSN Money on your smart phone.   If you read the full story, though, you realize it is not just one ticket but $25,000 worth of parking tickets (!!!) and that he hired "some guy" to try to get rid of the tickets, apparently by altering the dates and times on the tickets illegally.  So now he has to pay $132,000 in fines for basically trying to defraud the City of New York.

Not nearly as "outrageous!" as the headline suggests, is it?  No, a single ticket didn't morph into over a hundred grand in fines. And only some news sites even used the plural word "tickets" in their headlines.

In both cases, however, when I read these headlines, I immediately thought, "This smells like click-bait to me!" and in the case of the Harvard story, I had read the real deal on Snopes before I read it in "the media" so I knew I was being bamboozled before they could even try to get to me.

You can smell click-bait a mile away.  The easiest way to tell is by the nature of the headline.  Is the story so outrageous that you want to read more about it?  If it really was as outrageous as the headline suggests, wouldn't there be more in the news about it?

For example, the Harvard story is a case in point.  If Harvard put on a "black only" commencement ceremony, there would be an outcry and lawsuits filed.  It would be illegal for the college to segregate students in this manner.   So right off the bat, I am skeptical about the story.   And as I guessed from the headline, it wasn't an official event, but a private one - and private groups can discriminate if they want to (not recommended, but you can do it).

Similarly, the smell-test on the parking ticket thing also tipped me off.  Come on, if you could rack up $132,000 in fines from one $65 parking ticket, the world would be in revolt.  What is "outrageous!" to me, if anything, is how this guy could rack up $25,000 in parking tickets (nearly 400 violations) and not have to pay them sooner and not get towed or booted.   Yea, fuck him - tow his car and then crush it and make him pay for the towing and crushing.   I know what would happen to my car if I parked illegally in New York City!  Why does he get a free ride?

The easiest way to deal with these click-bait stories is to just re-read them with the word "NOT" in the title, as in "Harvard is NOT having a separate black commencement" or "Man does NOT have $65 ticket morph into $132,000 in fines" - because that is the basic truth of the matter.

The problem is, of course, that we click anyway on these stories, just to confirm what we thought all along - that they were bogus.  Curiosity killed the cat.  The news sites know exactly how many minutes we spend on them, and what stories "engage" us and what click-bait titles work and what ones don't. We are the problem, to a large extent.   This is the news media we created, not the one they wanted to create. They are in business to make money, and you make money these days with clicks - and if your news organization doesn't do it, the others will.

And no one is above the fray - some of the worst offenders are the Washington Post and the New York Times - which want us to believe that "protests" and shouting at people are going to bring down the Trump administration any day now.  I don't bother clicking on those stories anymore, they just really aren't reporting much in the way of real news.  Some guy stands up and screams at a town-hall meeting - did that really change anything at all, or just make the Left look even more stupid?

A reader sent me a link to an article about how news has gone downhill, and how much of it is speculation news, which I wrote about before.  Sadly, the author of the article was Michael Crichton, who writes the same novel ever few years, where some computer goes "haywire" and mankind is saved by a hero who manages to disable it and prevent "the bad guys" from winning.  The most ridiculous of these novels was Congo! where for some reason they had a computer in the jungle and the bad guys were mysterious white apes.  It made no freaking sense at all.  It was his Cujo, I think.   Most of these are harmless enough books, until he wrote one claiming that global warming scientists were the bad guys.  We can only hope the hero disabled the computer in time!

But speculation news is the same deal - you have to think about these things and then turn them off when it appears that the "news" media isn't reporting anything but instead merely speculating.   Wait a day, a week, or a month, and the real truth becomes clear, once the speculation and click-bait titles die down.

Sadly, of course, most people don't think anymore, but rather read and react - the Facebook effect.  And we all do it to some extent, yes even me.  We react to an "outrageous!" headline and then post it to our wall without thinking things through.   We jump on the bandwagon of a guy who refuses to get off a plane - without thinking of whether it is right that someone can refuse the instructions of a flight crew on an airplane.  What kind of can of worms are we opening up here?  Is the pitchfork mentality really the way we want to live?

Apparently, for most Americans, it is.