Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
Media outlets are supposed to be more reliable than your brother-in-law, but that seems less true every day.
Politicians and government officials like to talk as though it’s possible to stamp out fake news. It isn’t.
Fake news is as old as humanity. After Aristotle incorrectly claimed women had fewer teeth than men, generations of highly educated people believed it.
Rajendra Pachauri was called “the UN’s top climate scientist” by the BBC – and a “Nobel laureate” by the New York Academy of Sciences magazine. Neither statement was true.
Pachauri’s doctorate wasn’t in climatology, but in industrial engineering and economics. And the fact that he accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the UN organization he chaired doesn’t make him or any other person affiliated with that organization a Nobel laureate.
Published in 2008 and 2009, these inaccurate statements have never been corrected. In other words, we’re surrounded by fake news. And always will be. Humans are frequently mistaken. Organizations, as well as individuals, post things on the Internet before double-checking.
While media outlets are supposed to be more reliable than your brother-in-law, that seems less true every day. Over the past week, people have shared a CNN headline on Facebook that declares: “The Amazon rainforest is burning at a record rate” (see the screengrab from my own Facebook feed, at the top of this post).
If you click through to the CNN website, you’ll find a few extra words: “…research center says.” But the primary statement is misleading. Which means that millions have been alarmed unnecessarily – including a lovely, smart, young mother of my acquaintance.
Over at the website of National Geographic, a headline falsely declares: Brazil’s Amazon is burning at record rates – and deforestation is to blame. The second half of that assertion is vigorously disputed here.
On Twitter, the President of France used an image taken by a photographer who’s been dead for 16 years to represent the current situation. Let me just emphasize that point: the head of a G7 country is spreading fake news about events unfolding on another continent.
That doesn’t, for one minute, mean anyone should have the power to shut him down. Not Twitter, Facebook, the EU, the UN, or anyone in his own government.
Like it or not, we’re stuck with fake news. Our best defense is to read widely and maintain a high level of skepticism. On this question, here’s some counterbalance to the recent tsunami of alarmism:
Why Everything They Say About The Amazon, Including That It’s The ‘Lungs Of The World,’ Is Wrong
Amazon fires: how celebrities are spreading disinformation
The Amazon Is Not Earth’s Lungs: Humans could burn every living thing on the planet and still not dent its oxygen supply
Is Amazon Rainforest Burning At Record Rates? What Is The Way Forward?
Lies, Damn Lies, And Rainforest Fear-Mongering
Annual Amazon farmland burn sets records for international outrage
Amazon fires: What about Bolivia?
Stop Sharing Those Viral Photos of the Amazon Burning
The Three Most Viral Photos of the Amazon Fire Are Fake. Here Are Some Real Ones to Share.
What Satellite Imagery Tells Us About the Amazon Rain Forest Fires
The myth of ecocide: So many lies are being told about the Amazon fires
Why shouldn’t Brazilians burn down trees?
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