A week after the election of Donald Trump to the American presidency, it has become apparent that the spread of fake news may have influenced the beliefs of voters.
It has been shown that blatantly and empirically false news stories were shared on Facebook and social media as much – and possibly more – as legitimate news stories.
The facts at the root of these stories aren’t “controversial” or “debatable” – they are blatant and obvious lies about things that have never happened and statistics that are as wrong.
The Pope never endorsed Donald Trump but a story suggesting as much by a previously little-read news site was shared by hundreds of thousands of people.
It was hardly the only such false story propagated by so-called news sites that employ no reporters and show only an ability to play on people’s fears and to game social media algorithms.
Such articles get read and shared because they confirm the opinions of readers unwilling to spend the energy to actually consider the material they read or the source propagating it.
And while our elections haven’t been influenced yet, Canada is hardly immune.
A quick glance at Facebook reveals we are just as predisposed to share fake content that reinforces our beliefs.
At the case-by-case level, the effect is minor. But in aggregate, the widespread sharing of untrue information does huge damage to a society built on the understanding that two plus two does equal four, that words do have meaning, and that a person is entitled to one’s own opinion but not one’s own facts.
As such, each of us bears responsibility for doing what we can to stop the spread of untrue garbage floating around the internet.
Before you click “share,” or “like,” check the source. If something smells like trash, it probably is.