OPINION: Beware of Fake Stories

OPINION: Beware of Fake Stories

Since the advent of the internet, there have been many laws that have been created to predict what inevitably will or won’t happen, one of the most famous being Godwin’s Law. As another well-known law, Poe’s Law, states, it’s impossible to create a parody of extreme views that will not be mistaken for a person’s genuine thoughts. This law that has been proven all too true for Paul Horner, a fake-news writer who has had a much bigger influence than he’d ever imagined. His stories on the Amish Trump supporters, gay wedding vans, and ban of the pledge of allegiance were all falsely made tales mistaken for genuine articles. However, unlike the current string-pulling effect that these stories have had, Horner’s false-news articles were not started with such a sinister purpose in mind.

Instead, Horner is but another victim of a world where the serious is made humorous and the humorous made serious.

The sheer amount of attention that these stories have gotten is simply ridiculous, especially considering the fact that none of the thousands of people who read these stories bothered to fact-check or even Google the events at all. What’s worse is that these people are not gullible children, but fully-grown adults. Despite having supposedly grown up, these adults are still putting absolute trust in a figure that may or may not be right – making the news media almost like a set of replacement parents when it comes to information. However, while the audience’s decision to believe and share these stories wasn’t very smart, they’re not entirely to blame.

While Horner claims his articles were written to provide satire and mock some of the things that have been said or delivered, they were not published on satire websites like The Onion, but rather on legitimate news websites such as ABC or CNN. Now, it’s perfectly fine to make up a satire article and post it with the clear intent of making a joke. What’s not fine is to disguise the article as genuine news to play some kind of prank on readers. What’s more, the news websites actually appear to have published the articles as if they were genuine, which makes me wonder how Horner got his “news” there in the first place. The most likely possibility that comes to mind is that Horner lied to the news websites and somehow fooled them into publishing the articles as if they were actual news events, which makes me seriously question the credibility of these websites. Any alternative explanations – the news websites believing everyone would think it was satire, for instance – aren’t much more reassuring.

Donald Trump is well-known for bashing the media for bias and lack of accuracy, and while he may have started his war against the news companies for the wrong reasons, his insults may very well have a basis in fact in light of falsely made stories like these.

Ultimately, intentional or not, these articles were a test of the public’s intelligence and independence – and the overall grade was an F. But in spite of the failure of this test, it’s not too late for us to learn a few lessons from it, namely how to distinguish real stories from false ones. Here are a few basic tips:

  • If a story’s title alone both piques your curiosity and angers you, that may be its intent: This is known as “clickbait”.
  • Google and the other search engines of the internet can actually prove helpful here. Google up the article’s title or subject and try to see how many other articles involve this creation. In particular, check news websites like the New York Times or Washington Post – hopefully the people at those websites won’t be fooled as easily.
  • Remember to check the “About Us” section of each website you take a look at, or try to look up the author of the article. In some cases, this “About Us” section may be difficult or even outright impossible to spot, which should be an automatic red flag.

Just remember that emotions can be easily manipulated for other people’s personal gain  or amusement. Keep an eye out for what’s true and what’s not, and hopefully you won’t be fooled.