When I was a kid we used to say “a picture doesn’t lie.” Well, times sure have changed. At first it was senior photos and magazine models that were airbrushed. Now every image that we see has to be viewed with raised eyebrows. Before the term “fake news” was co-opted by the current president to refer to legitimate press coverage, it was used to refer to fabricated stories created by sites dedicated to intentionally misinforming for the benefit of creating website traffic. I have to admit I just learned this today. I always thought of fake news as false memes that circulate in social media. I realize that there are also stories from shady sources, but I never thought about the strategic manipulation that was involved for profit. Website traffic equals dollars, and by disseminating sensational and false stories people are getting rich. Just like the nefarious stock trader or the doctor who writes negligent oxycodone prescriptions, this is a white collar crime and the perpetrators don’t care who gets hurt, even if it’s their own family.
According to snopes.com there are approximately 300 websites that operate this way. Some operate under names designed to look like reputable news sources like CNBC, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, CNN or NBC. I found a long list of sites at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fake_news_websites. Apparently sites pop up and may be quickly shut down or moved to a new domain name. People sometimes complain Wikipedia has a similar problem of misinformation because it is an open platform and users can update data. Generally speaking, users don’t benefit from adding false information to Wikipedia, and the information is controlled by an open group, not an individual. With this said, even news from reputable sites have to be read thoughtfully and critically. All news services make occasional mistakes and public retractions. Tabloids have always straddled the fence between truth and unsubstantiated gossip.
Since the advent of coronavirus I’ve seen all kinds of wildly misinformed stories swirling in social media. Partly because the world legitimately doesn’t have all the answers on this new virus. And partly because global governments won’t share all their private information any more than your Tinder date will. However, I’m 100% certain COVID-19 isn’t part of a carefully orchestrated international plan to make people stay home and collapse the global economy. Even the wealthiest and most powerful don’t benefit from that kind of mess. The biggest current debate is the ethical dilemma of when businesses should reopen – do we place more value on human lives or on the quality of human lives as many families slide rapidly into poverty with no help in sight?
I’ve been black my whole life. I understand why we don’t trust the government or law enforcement. Cases like the Tuskegee syphilis experiments on black men and the KKK infiltration of the police department are widely known. I also understand why folks don’t trust the media. Stories are often subjective and sensational. I’ll never forget the portrayal of the Central Park Five in the 80’s. But, wasn’t it the images of people being sprayed with fire hoses and children marching that brought victory to the civil rights movement? Wasn’t it pictures of hundreds of coffins that brought an end to the Vietnam war? Freedom of the press is one of the major markers of a democracy. If it fails, we all fail.
I pointed out recently that a photo shared on a friend’s Facebook seemed to be photoshopped. My friend replied that the sentiment is still there even if the photo is false. Shouldn’t we care about facts at least as much as perceived opinions? We used to say “a picture tells a thousand words.” Now pictures lie, and people don’t seem to care.
Today I made a contribution to snopes.com. I’ve relied on them for years to help me determine fact from fiction in a world where technology continues to blur lines. When we meditate we learn to find the space between thought and response. In this space lies peace and discernment.
I encourage you to find that same pause with information – the space between seeing and believing. “Don’t believe everything you read,” was told to me as a child. I tell my daughter, “don’t believe everything the professor says.” Now we have to add what Eddie Murphy quipped long ago, “don’t believe your lying eyes!”
I’m sometimes guilty of clicking the share button before I confirm information to be true. Then, just like coronavirus, I become part of a rapidly spreading pandemic of false information. Let’s do our best not to spread the coronavirus or the virus of false information. Much like some folks don’t worry about COVID-19 because they don’t think they’re at risk, many of us don’t care about spreading false information unless the lies that are spread are about us.
Take care of yourself.
Stop the spread.
I wish you Freedom, Alignment and Effortless Abundance!
P.S. The image shown has gone viral on the web. It was taken this month in Jacksonville, FL as people returned to the beaches. While it is an accurate depiction of the beach, there have been plenty of Facebook posts disputing its validity. Here’s Snopes’ perspective: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/jacksonville-beaches-photos/ If you’re curious about how Wikipedia works, I found an interesting article here: https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/03/why-wikipedia-works.html