Fake News: a field guide

Fake news – it’s everywhere nowadays! But what is it? And how can you spot it?

According to the Center for Information Technology and Society at UC Santa Barbara (which just happened to be the top result on DuckDuckGo when I searched the term), fake news is:

News articles that are intentionally and verifiably false” [1] designed to manipulate people’s perceptions of real facts, events, and statements. It’s about information presented as news that is known by its promoter to be false based on facts that are demonstrably incorrect, or statements or events that verifiably did not happen. 

Fake news “is fabricated information that mimics news media content in form but…lack(s) the news media’s editorial norms and processes for ensuring the accuracy and credibility of information” [2]. It overlaps with misinformation (false or misleading information) and disinformation (false information purposely spread to mislead people).

[1] H. Allcott and M. Gentzkow, “Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 211–236, May 2017.

[2] D. M. J. Lazer et al., “The Science of Fake News,” Science, vol. 359, no. 6380, pp. 1094–1096, Mar. 2018.

What is Fake News? – CITS

In short – according to the above definition – fake news is pretty much anything you will find in the mainstream media nowadays, whether in the newspapers / online, on TV, or on the radio.

The first thing you need to understand is that very few journalists are in the business of journalism anymore. I worked for four years as a journalist and in all that time I left the office for a story precisely once. Instead, most journalists, especially ‘desk’ journalists, simply repackage news from other sources, either other news outlets (who have in turn gotten most of it in the same way) or syndication sites such as Reuters, Agence France Press, and Associated Press, all of which heavily push a liberal line.

This is important, because it means that the vast majority of stories are not directly verified. That is, the person writing the story has not spoken directly to witnesses of the event being reported on, they’ve just taken it on faith that someone somewhere along the line has. This makes the news very easy to fake. It also means that there is an awful lot of groupthink in the media nowadays, because as soon as one outlet reports a story all the others jump on board, parroting the same ‘facts’ without verifying them.

Setting that aside for a moment, let’s look at some key givaways that the news most people consume nowadays is fake:

1) Opinion presented as fact

Most news article no longer simply present facts or details of events, they also tell you what you should think about them. There are two common ways of doing this: by inserting adjectives, and by the use of quotes from a biased source.

Here’s an example of the latter:

This article, published in the Jerusalem Post on February 18, 2021, is presented as simply: this is happening, it will effect you, you need this information.

HOWEVER. In among all the details on how to access the green passport and how long it lasts (only six months!), the journalist has added quotes. Among them is this quote from Health Minister Yuli Edelstein – note that the journalist has also added in an explanation of his quote to spell out what you are supposed to surmise from what he’s saying:

This is straight-up propaganda. Especially given this additional information:

And to really drive the message home, there’s a further quote:

There are also quotes from security personnel and public servants involved in rolling out the passport. The message is clear: While Israel’s government, like all others, can’t legally force anyone to take the vaccine, they can put an enormous amount of pressure on those who don’t want to. Right now we’re in the carrot phase of their coercion plan. Don’t assume there won’t be a stick phase.

A balanced article on such a scheme would give details on how to access government information on how to get the green passport, and then present both the minister’s views and those of, say, a civil rights lawyer or campaigner who might wish to point out that the policy is discriminatory and therefore likely illegal. Or at least, the journalist might ask some pertinent questions of the minister and report his responses. Journalism is supposed to hold those in power to account. This does not do that – in fact it’s cheer-leading for the government. Therefore, it is not giving you ‘what you need to know’, it’s telling you what to think. It is propaganda. Do not fall for it.


2) Takedowns and fluff pieces

Takedowns and fluff pieces are basically a spin on the opinion-as-fact genre, only instead of telling you what to think about an event, they tell you what to think about a particular person. Takedowns tell you that person is bad (usually means they’re a populist politician), fluff pieces tell you that person is good (ie, part of the globalist cabal).

For example, here we have an absolute classic of a take-down article. Story: mean, nasty, meaniepants Ted Cruz is MEAN TO DOGS (New York Post, 19th Feb 2021).

How do we know that Cruz is mean to dogs? A reporter dropped by his house and found Cruz out, but his dog at home. He took a picture and posted it online (why? I can only surmise this reporter is no fan of Cruz). The reporter even went so far as to discover that the dog’s name is Snowflake (real Pulitzer material there!) Some other people who don’t like Cruz saw the picture and tweeted their unsolicited opinions. Those opinions were unfavourable:

Turns out the story isn’t actually true… Cruz left the dog in the care of the security guard:

Note the use of “lonely mutt” and “presumably chilly”. Cruz could have left the heating on for all anyone knows, so they’re just making that bit up. This is opinion as adjective, as mentioned above. Anyway, regardless, hatchet job done, Cruz apologises:

Et voila: the New York Post got what it wanted, which is to pair ‘Ted Cruz’ with ‘is mean to dogs’ in the minds of American voters. Propaganda, not news.

3) Lies, damned lies, and statistics

As a general rule of thumb, if there are any sort of statistics in a mainstream news article they are almost certainly misleading. Most journalists are Arts graduates, which means that their knowledge of statistical analysis is poor at best. Usually it’s completely non-existent. As a consequence, they fling stats around like confetti with absolutely no context or analysis whatsoever. Marvelous things can be done with these numbers, such as turning an average flu season into a worldwide pandemic, destroying the economy in the process.

Or take this little nugget, posted to the BBC News website on February 18, 2021, accompanying a two minute video package:

There are a few more details within the video:

<iframe width="400" height="500" frameborder="0" src="https://www.bbc.com/news/av-embeds/56107358/vpid/p097f8dr"></iframe>

Clearly the BBC wants you to agree with Joe Biden that “We have already waited to long to deal with the climate crisis, and can’t wait any longer.” But hold up there, Joe! There’s a few problems here!

– The video shows a screenshot from the Biden / Harris webpage, which reads: “Biden’s climate and environmental justice [what the heck is environmental justice?] proposal will make federal investment of $1.7 trillion over the next ten years, leveraging additional private sector and state and local investments to total more than $5 trillion”. But it then goes on to explain that those who are questioning the high costs are wrong to do so, because climate disasters cost money.

To be (relatively) precise, the cost of those disasters over the “last five years from 2016 to 2020 exceeds $600 billion – and that’s a record!” Can you spot the problem here? The BBC are slamming those who question the high cost of mitigation, but the projected mitigation costs far exceed the costs of the damage being inflicted. So those critics are right to point out that the cost of these policies is too high – they don’t pay for themselves in basic terms. And that’s assuming that the mitigation techniques work, which is by no means a given.

There’s a couple of other problems here too:

Natural changes in climate occur over aeons, not years, so saying “Since records began in 1980” is totally meaningless. The scale (years) is not appropriate to what is being measures (long term climate trends).

There’s also zero context on why the cost is going up. We’re to assume that the hurricanes are getting bigger and the fires are getting wilder, but it may be that there are more built up areas than there were 40 years ago, or that the buildings being put in are worth more, because people tend to invest in infrastructure over time, to say nothing of inflation which automatically drives monetary values up over time anyway.

Whenever you come across stats in an article, be sceptical. They are almost certainly there to give a veneer of credibility to an otherwise bogus story. Ask yourself a few basic questions:

– Do the figures add up? Get your calculator out and check for yourself.

– Are the stats missing context? As in the climate change example above, journalists are more than happy to throw numbers around in a completely contextless format. We’re simply told “12 people died this week!!” But how many people normally die each week? What other causes of death have a comparable death rate? By leaving context out, you can create a scary sounding headline out of almost any everyday occurrence.

– Correlation does not prove causation. What other reasons could there be for a trend?

– and in the days of corona, simply: is this true? I’ve seen numerous articles claiming that so far there have been zero deaths from the vaccine, despite there being good evidence readily available that somewhere in the region of 600 people have died shortly after taking the vaccine in the USA alone. The excuse given is that no direct link could be proven – yet they were more than happy to report every death with Covid as a Covid death, vastly inflating the stats. This is a cheap stats trick. Don’t fall for it.

4) Omissions

Again, there are a few forms of omission as fake news. A common one is omission of context, as in the ‘very fine people’ slur against Trump.

This slur was used repeatedly against Trump, who was accused of having called Neo-Nazis ‘very fine people’ following the riots at Charlottesville in 2017. In fact, he specifically condemned the neo-Nazis, along with their counterparts on the left, but made the point that within both of the groups that clashed were many people who merely felt motivated to stand up for American values. Nonetheless, the slur became so ingrained that it was used as evidence in Trump’s second impeachment trial last week.

Here’s the whole clip:

However, also very important – though harder to spot – is the omission of entire narratives, thereby giving a bias to the reporting of a subject taken as a whole. A clear example of this has come in reporting on corona, in which we hear plenty about how many people have died with corona, including all sorts of human interest stories on the victims. We’ve also heard about the ministers working hard to manage the pandemic, the doctors and nurses overwhelmed on the front lines, and the valiant efforts of scientists to roll out a vaccine as soon as possible.

Not reported have been the deaths caused by lockdown, the destruction of the economy, human interest stories on people who have lost their businesses, stories about the MPs who oppose the lockdowns and are working hard to try to preserve our freedoms, the millions who have taken to the streets to do the same, or the doctors who have presented the scientific community with clear evidence that corona can be cheaply and easily cured using tried and tested drugs.

The consequence is that large numbers of people believe that there is a pandemic raging, that the collateral damage to the economy and health more broadly is inevitable, and that the only solution is the vaccine. All false.

5) Others

This list is by no means exhaustive, there are many little tricks and sleights of hand used by the media nowadays to spin stories and mislead the public. False equivalence is another favourite, along with assuming the narrative – that is, presenting an opinion as received thinking on a topic, and the other side as simply not worth reporting, ie: “But everyone knows the climate is changing because of greenhouse gasses! Why would we give airtime to the cranks and loonies who think otherwise?!”

The key to avoiding fake news however is simple and straightforward: question everything. Be sceptical of everything. Research everything. If the media is telling you something, don’t take their word for it, look it up. Usually the source material is very easily found on the internet within a matter of minutes. Question the motivation of everyone. Why is Bill Gates pouring millions into vaccines? Is it because he’s a nice chap, as the media would have you believe, or is he up to something? Find out for yourself! And encourage others to do that same. That way we will soon be able to emerge from this new dark age we find ourselves mired in.

We now have a Telegram channel, and a Telegram group, so you can keep up to date with every blog and discuss the implications with like-minded people.

You can now buy my novel The Book of Niv: A Modern Bible Story in print and ebook. It is written for these times, for those who have been called to “Play up! Play up! And play the game!”