In the last three months of the 2016 Presidential election, fake news outperformed real news on Facebook. And by fake news, I mean these stories were wholesale fabricated and had no factual basis in reality whatsoever. It wasn’t a simple matter of spinning the facts, which all news does; there were no underlying facts to be spun!
The salacious stories were made up in their entirely with the express intent of deceiving people for the purpose of driving traffic to websites so that the site owner could make money from ad revenue.
A New Era
In this new reality of #FakeNews and #AlternativeFacts (much of it coming directly from The White House at this point), many have asked how we got in this sorry state. I would offer it’s because too many people don’t recognize digital discernment – the ability to research, analyze and put into context online information, for the learned skill that it is. People mistake it for an innate characteristic that one either has or doesn’t have; and thus don’t feel the need to invest in learning it.
We see a similar level of catastrophic delusion in the realm of entrepreneurship. Shark Tank is one of the hottest shows on television, has been for years now. The romance and nostalgia surrounding being a self-made entrepreneur is so intoxicating that people willfully enter shark-infested waters, only to be publicly eviscerated for the enjoyment of all.
Another show that may have saved the Shark Tank contestants some heartache is The Profit on MSNBC. Marcus Lemonis finds similarly ill-prepared business owners on the brink of collapse and rescues their failing businesses, for 60% ownership and a fair amount of scripted smack talk that is.
The one thing the failing business owners on Shark Tank and The Profit all have in common is that they’re fundamentally weak in one, and often several areas. They had a big idea and just launched their business with zero training, believing great entrepreneurs are born not made. They quickly find themselves completely overwhelmed with the realities of business operations and needing to be bailed out by the Sharks on Shark Tank or Marcus Lemonis from The Profit.
What’s that got to do with me?
That’s nice but what in the world does that have to do with #FakeNews and #AlternativeFacts; you ask? The above story demonstrates the calamity that awaits those who mistake skills for characteristics and devalue learning those skills as a result.
Just because some people have natural proclivities that lend themselves to being a successful entrepreneur doesn’t mean there aren’t common traits of what successful entrepreneurship looks like that can be pulled out, put into a framework and taught.
Often times a simple accounting or contract negotiation class could have saved these business owners from being publicly humiliated on Shark Tanks or being forced to give up a majority of their business to Marcus Lemonis on The Profit.
This skewed sense of reality leads to overconfidence in their abilities and lands them in situations they can’t handle. I’m arguing this is EXACTLY what happened on Facebook leading up to the 2016 election and ushered in the new reality of #FakeNews and #AlternativeFacts.
With the cost of technology and barrier to getting online falling precipitously each year we suddenly find ourselves in a situation where baby boomers, Gen X, and Millienials are all co-mingling online. The vast majority of which are just digitally literate enough to be online, but have never been taught what it means to be a responsible digital citizen. Is it any wonder people were so easily manipulated by #FakeNews?
So Now What?
The first step in solving a problem is admitting there is one. Just as with entrepreneurship we have to acknowledge the need for education and divorce ourselves from ego-driven ignorance. Just because Henry Ford only had a 3rd grade education doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn how to run a business before you start one!
Similarly, just because you know someone who intuitively is able to properly discern online information doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn how to if you don’t already know.
While getting my Bachelor’s degree in Internet Marketing this was literally the first thing that was taught to us. Now I’m not suggesting you go back to school to learn how to safely surf Facebook, but I am suggesting that you invest the time to bulk up your digital discernment muscles.
What follows is a framework I paid almost $60k for in my degree program that I’m giving you for free. Clearly it’s not meant to be exhaustive as this is a blog post and not an accredited degree program, but these evaluation criteria should get you well on your way:
- Who wrote it?
- Why are they qualified to write this?
- Could the source have been written for any purpose that may bias the author?
- What sources did the writer use and how reliable are they? I.e. did the writer interview the subject or use secondary sources?
- When was it written?
- When was it last updated or revised?
- Do you feel this site is trustworthy?
I would also direct you to an awesome video by PBS Idea Channel on How NOT To Spot Fake News. It’s important to fight the temptation to throw up your hands in frustration and deep all news you don’t agree with or find objectionable as fake. This video does a splendid job of walking you how to do just that.
I sincerely hope you found this post helpful in navigating this brave new world. Soldier on.