Fake News · Information operations · Information Warfare

Dealing With Fake News, Reality, and The Truth On Facebook

Someone asked a question today on Facebook and I answered.  I figured if I can help one or two people per day, I’m a happy man. I decided to share my answer in this blog.

The Facebook user’s question:

How do we know what is FAKE and what is REAL in this day and age? I struggle everyday reading both sides of the coin and not knowing what the TRUTH is anymore because the media only tells us the part of the story they want us to know. Who are the credible sources?

My answer:

<deleted for safety>, the answer isn’t easy. I’ve been chasing down fake news, clickbait, fake accounts, etc for years as a part of my job countering Russian Information Warfare. Here is some general guidance.
If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Nobody likes Politician A, for instance. A headline pops up that he’s been arrested for Crime B. It’s probably not true. I take the person’s name, pop it into google and search the articles and news for whatever popped up. Now a LOT of stuff that is unfavorable to Democrats won’t appear on CNN, the NYT, or the Washington Post, but chances are the New York Post, The Washington Times and some legitimate conservative sites will pick up the story. Usually local news is trustworthy, the ones that use call signs in their URL.
If you see a website that is named something outlandishly conservative, chances are it’s a clickbait site. See who is posting the site. If they are from Velez, Macedonia, it’s definitely clickbait (Read Inside the Macedonian Fake-News Complex on Wired)[Ed: link added for this blog]. If you do click on the link and there are more ads than news, it’s probably clickbait. Do a “Whois” on the domain name, check out where the registrant is from.
I NEVER accept news for face value, ESPECIALLY in the first few minutes. I am a retired military intelligence officer and I always checked at least five different sites and sometimes called up the embassy in that country to get the ground truth. Even then, if it is a crisis, chances are the truth will emerge in a few hours. On 9/11/2001 I was working in the Washington DC area and we heard that the State Department had been bombed, the capitol had been bombed, all kinds of stories.
Last tidbit. The only way to argue with a troll is with the truth and even then you’re on shaky ground. Tomi Lahren is pretty good about telling the truth, but she definitely puts a conservative spin on some facts. So… read everything you can about an issue before commenting – especially if the headline is sensational. If a troll makes a comment which makes you angry, count to ten, say “Gosh darn it” to your screen, then go read the truth. Read a few things by liberals, read a few things by conservatives, read something foreign like the BBC, heck, read something Russian. Understand WHY someone would have that particular perspective, get as many details as you can. Then, before responding, figure out if it’s actually worth your time to counter them or if they’ll just dry up and blow away. Last bit of advice. My sister, my wife, and my extended family read what I post on Facebook. That keeps me civil. I’m ex-Special Forces, I can out-curse any sailor and I can back up those words with action. But knowing my wife and sister see a lot of what I write keeps me civil. So… do what you did and ask questions.
Sometimes life is like a box of chocolates, you won’t know what you have until you bite into one.

3 thoughts on “Dealing With Fake News, Reality, and The Truth On Facebook

  1. Rather a lengthy response, Joel, but I agree with your approach. It’s a sorry state of affairs that makes it necessary to do so much research before you can comment on something. Jake S.

    1. Thanks, Jake. Coming from you, that’s a real compliment!

      My concern was more with thoroughness than brevity. The woman to whom I originally wrote seemed genuinely concerned and I hadn’t a clue as to her expertise.

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