Seeing isn’t always believing … sometimes

Published 10:47 pm Saturday, June 6, 2015

It was so bizarre she wanted it to be true.

At a family get-together last weekend, my sister was scrolling through Facebook when she stopped on a headline: “76-year-old mom kicked out of KFC for breastfeeding 42-year-old son.”

Despite her initial shock and “ew,” I told her not to get too worked up before I even looked at the story.

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“It’s fake,” I said.

Now I’m not claiming to be a beacon of news perfection since I work at a newspaper. I’ve just been down the fake news road of “Whoa, is that true?” one too many times. And I’ve taken the bait for it enough times to bruise my ego and assume its false.

Fake news stories like this prove that it’s time to take a step back from the bombardment of online news to really filter out what we accept as fact.

People post and shares countless stories on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites with many of them being from biased, right- or left-leaning sources.

Mixed in are the fake news packaged with headlines, photos and teases just like the real thing. It used to be relatively easy to spot them — most were from The Onion.

But even that’s not so simple apparently. Last week, one of 14 FIFA executives indicted on corruption charges used an Onion article to claim the accusations were part of a U.S. conspiracy. Former FIFA vice president Jack Warner posted a video on Facebook defending himself and stating the charges are a conspiracy against FIFA because the U.S. missed out on hosting the World Cup. He used an Onion article with the headline “FIFA Frantically Announces 2015 Summer World Cup In The United States: Global Soccer Tournament To Kick Off In America Later This Afternoon” to backup the conspiracy claims. He later reposted the video with all references to The Onion removed.

A core problem with fake new sites is that we’re all a little like the “The X-Files” saying — “I want to believe.” If readers don’t realize the source is fake news, the first inclination is to believe. We love the outlandish and want it to be true. Fake news is not new, and it’s not exclusively an Internet problem. I’m told one of my great-grandmothers believed just about every story in The National Enquirer.

And it’s a bit generational. Both my grandmothers have zero knowledge fake news exists. If they read some of the headlines on The Onion, they’d likely believe it without much cause for alarm or questioning. Thankfully, that’s not going to happen, because neither uses the Internet.

But this just shows it’s time for us news-gatherers and Internet users to take a step back and admit the fake news has gone several steps too far online. It’s time to add an extra layer of caution and questioning when we’re gathering news. We have to treat questionable sites/stories like most conspiracy theories by assuming they’re false until proven otherwise.

As I was writing this column, a relative posted on Facebook asking if the story of a teacher who brought her middle- and high-school students to the Smitten Kitten sex store in the Twin Cities — a story reported by the Associated Press — was real or an Onion story.

When in doubt, it’s better for us all to be sure.