Editorial: Help stamp out false news, look before you share

Many in the news media have begun to eschew the term “fake news,” linked as it has become to the reactionary tweets of a certain American political figure with a penchant for attacking news stories he deems negative towards him by labelling them as such and unabashedly forwarding outlandish conspiracy theories that tickle his fancy. Yes, we are talking Trump.

But as an accurate label for the avalanche of misinformation being promulgated online, particularly on Facebook, there are few terms that stand better to serve. Sadly, no side of a debate seems immune to this modern phenomenon. 

In the early days of the internet, there was a particular form of virus that utilized the services of the well-meaning as a means of replication. An outlandish and provocative claim would be emailed to an individual with the request that they pass it on to everyone in their contact list. So many complied that the volume often threatened to overwhelm the fledgling digital mail systems.

Today, that system of replication is being used in social media to spread false claims, inflammatory rhetoric and outright libel against public figures on the left, right and centre of the political spectrum. This can have numerous negative effects as the credibility of the sender is being utilized to support those falsehoods.

The consequences are legion. Hate becomes normalized, encouraging the rise of racist and homophobic groups, personality attacks take the place of policy debate in politics and false “facts” supplant the truth by sheer volume.

As a community newspaper, we take our responsibility to deliver the facts very seriously. In those instances, where our inherent humanity causes us to stumble on the path in search of facts, we take great lengths to ensure that we correct the public record to the best of our ability. On the whole, we are very proud of the work we do and the efforts we put into bringing credible news stories that matter to the communities we serve.

Each week The Expositor staff spends a significant amount of time tracing the source and facts behind the numerous news tips that come across our path every day in order to verify what we bring to the people we serve. The news is a noble calling to most of us in the industry, a vocation if you will, and we take it very, very seriously.

So that is why we are asking you, the public, to take a pause for the cause and help SPOT misinformation, fake news, before you click share and pass it on. Before you put your own credibility on the line, even if the story in question is one that you fervently wish was true, take a moment to verify that it is—and, this is the really important part, don’t pass it on if you have any doubts as to the story’s veracity.

These fake news stories only succeed in spreading their misinformation through the agency, however well meaning (or not), of those who click before they think. Don’t be a dupe or stoop to becoming a part of the problem. Democracy is a cherished institution that so many have given everything, even their very lives, to protect on our behalf. Can we not spend a few moments to reflect before we click?

During this election period we will have plenty of opportunities to put the News Media Canada SPOT tool outlined in this story, but once the dust has settled on the latest donnybrook that is our electoral process, let’s keep SPOT at top of mind and do our own spot checks on the facts being presented for our information.