Words by Markos, 28 VIC
I love facts. I grew up reading fact books, I tweet facts, I write fact-based articles and I’ve even worked in fact-checking.
Therefore, it sickens me to see the epidemic of lies and propaganda that has gripped the world. Far too many people are shunning trustworthy information sources like reputable news outlets, books and qualified experts and are instead turning to dishonest websites and social media personalities who masquerade conspiracies, half-truths and opinions as fact.
The online propaganda epidemic is widespread. It’s not restricted to one ideology or political group, bias of any sort is bad and should be recognised (we’ll get to that later). However, it cannot be denied that the lies and propaganda which stem from the right-wing side of the aisle is ridiculous and dangerous on a whole other level. After all, it is right-wing people that have called tragic mass shootings hoaxes and even insulted and defamed mass shooting survivors. They have spread fear-mongering propaganda about the Muslim, Jewish and LGBTIQ communities. More recently, they’ve accused left-leaning groups of lighting Australia’s catastrophic bushfires.
It’s all designed to feed the prejudices and fears of ignorant people, so they become obedient supporters of the right-wing agenda. An agenda that’s characterized by pro-white, pro-gun, anti-gay, anti-immigrant and climate change-disbelieving sentiments.
The consequences of this misinformation epidemic extend well beyond the computer screen. Online lies have broken up families, led to the severe harassment of innocent people and there’s evidence that it has inspired mass murder and terror attacks (and continues to).
It also leads to totally unfit people being elected to powerful positions. We have seen this with Donald Trump in the United States, proud neo-Nazis in Greece, and even Fraser Anning who received over 37,000 first-preference votes in the 2019 federal election. Why? People believe the extreme propaganda and vote for politicians who they believe will act on it for them.
These propagandist outlets show no signs of slowing down, there’s now over 100 US-based ones alone. Their follower numbers are growing and the damage they do will continue to increase going forward.
So, what do we do?
I don’t pretend to have a solution, but I have a resolution – I will keep spreading facts. I’ll write factual articles and use clear evidence to rebut any toxic, overtly false statements that I see.
You should do the same. Seek out only trustworthy, verified information. Even if the facts contradict your personal opinions or biases, be big enough to accept that, instead of childishly dismissing it as “fake news!”
Don’t believe or share any purposefully incorrect or misleading information and don’t follow the outlets that create it. Encourage your loved ones to do the same.
It can be tricky to determine if something you see online is fact or fiction – so, I’ve put together this guide:
- Research the person or platform stating the fact
Google the name of the person and/or website and if terms like “biased”, “controversy”, “banned”, “conspiracy theory”, “misleading” or “libel” appear then it’s a good sign that the person and/or website shouldn’t be used as a reputable source of information.
Does the source openly refer to itself as “conservative” or “socialist” or by other such labels? If so, then they are skewed towards a certain political side and what they say will be biased towards that agenda at the expense of accuracy.
- Check for sources
Does the article/video/post have any sources? If not, then it could just be an opinion and therefore not factual. If there are sources, check them out.
*You should repeat step 1 for each source.
- Find the horse’s mouth
If a reference is made to a speech, interview or statement that someone has made then find the full speech, interview or statement. Watch it and make up your own mind about it. A summary is not only potentially biased, but it doesn’t always give you the full picture.
- Check the date
Sometimes content that’s several months or years old will be re-shared on social media. That doesn’t mean it’s untrue, but it could no longer be relevant.
- See if it’s satire
Sometimes an article is satire and therefore shouldn’t be considered news at all. Satirical outlets typically have silly names and an overtly comedic style of writing. If in doubt, just check to see if the outlet is on this list. If it is, don’t take the outlet’s content seriously!
- Consult a fact-checking site
For an Australia-based fact, check to see if it’s been confirmed or debunked by one of Australia’s three main fact-checking sites:
AFP Fact Check
RMIT ABC Fact Check.
The website Snopes is an excellent fact-checking site for stories around the world, but mostly American ones. Here’s a helpful list of fact-checking entities for people in other parts of the world.If more of us value and listen to facts then maybe the influence of liars and propagandists will fade away and we can all march forwards to a more enlightened world.
A world built on facts.