On the EDge: Blame it on the media?

OPINION – Sometimes, it really is best to shoot the messenger.

If you’ve so much as dipped a toe into the world of social media these days, you know what I’m talking about.

It’s a big pool with room for everybody, from 9/11 conspiracy theorists to fitness gurus who claim to hold the key to a longer, happier, healthier life.

You can justify your thoughts, no matter how far-fetched, because I guarantee, whether you are preaching that the world is under the dominance of evil aliens who have infiltrated our society at every level or following the path to financial independence paved by some self-proclaimed high-finance wizard, you can find a substantiating argument to support you on the internet.

The first website to go up was unveiled on Aug. 6, 1991, when World Wide Web was created by Tim Berners-Lee, a computer scientist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, in Geneva. It described itself as “a wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents.”

Truth and accuracy, however, are lacking from that description.

Since that initial website, more than 1 billion competitors have been created. Although most are inactive or considered “parked domains,” there are still a minimum of 250 million websites for your perusal. Some are clearly legitimate, others label themselves as satire or humor. Many, however, take a discerning eye to determine fact from fantasy. Then, of course, there are those, mostly political, that deal in pure lies.

We’ve seen, locally, how these lies are perpetrated.

Not long ago, an outfit calling itself National Report posted a story claiming that St. George had made pornography illegal and that first-time offenders would be sentenced to 30 days in jail.

The story, of course, was untrue, but that didn’t stop its rapid circulation in social media outlets or dispel the concerns of those who fell for it.

More recently, an outfit called Associated Media Coverage posted a piece claiming that Warren Jeffs, the self-proclaimed prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, had died. The report, to borrow a phrase from Mark Twain, was “greatly exaggerated.” Jeffs is alive and well and serving a sentence of life plus 20 years in a prison near Palestine, Texas, for raping two young girls – one 12, the other 14 – who he had taken as spiritual wives.

But, in both cases, these malicious stories were widely circulated.

St. George News, and other reputable news agencies, stepped forward to set the record straight.

You see, this whole social media thing has cast a huge shadow over all of us who have worked as scribes over the years. There are good, honest newsmen and women out there searching for truth, a fading commodity, especially during this election season.

I won’t dignify any of the allegations, arguments or positions put forth by some of these sites since the candidates tossed their hat in the ring because to do so would offer a relative degree of credibility to them. Whether liberal or conservative, they are not deserving of the slightest hint of legitimacy.

But, as we have seen, the public eagerly swallows the click bait and before you know it, a story, a meme, an outrageous lie has gone viral because people have become too lazy to search for the truth. There are also those who are uncomfortable with the truth and seek a supporting document – from anywhere – to support their shaky claims.

The most recent fake story about Jeffs appeared on the Associated Media Coverage site, which, in fact, is neater and better organized than many professional media outlets I have cruised. It looked good, the story was written in a clean, traditional journalistic style and, to further cinch it, it was believable and within the realm of possibility.

As soon as the piece appeared on a Google Alert my wife has set up on Jeffs, it set a number of wheels in motion.

While our Kimberly Scott dug into the story from her end, I immediately contacted a number of my contacts within the polygamy community for comment and reaction. I think we both ended up on the line with the public information officer’s office at the Texas prison at the same time because although we had a lot of folks claiming the story was untrue, the only ones who could verify one way or another were prison officials, who quickly dispelled the disinformation.

I recall spending a lot of time over the years chasing stories that turned out to be false, leading to brick walls at the end of long and winding dead end streets. But, that’s part of the job.

A lot of the anger that simmers out there is generated by these falsehoods spread through zealots who realize that most people do not take the time to fact check before spreading news – particularly bad news – about a reviled political opponent, religious opposite, racial or social group.

When proven wrong, who gets the blame?

The media, of course.

It is difficult, working from inside the media, to acknowledge that these crazy, disingenuous groups posting lies are considered a part of what was once a highly respected profession, especially when you see how some longstanding news agencies have compromised their integrity for ratings and readership by click-baiting with exaggerated scandals or what was once termed “yellow journalism.”

The tragedy is that as we enter into this expanded information age, with input attacking us from all sides, it is increasingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Reporters are taught to find numerous sources for every story. I know of many professors who admonish their young charges: “If your mother says she loves you, get a second source.”

There are some tools out there that can be helpful in your search for the truth.

Snopes, About Urban Legends, Break the Chain, TruthorFiction.com, Sophos and a number of other reliable sites, are only a few clicks away. You can go to PolitiFact or FactCheck.Org for political answers, and if you want to learn who is influencing whom financially, just punch in at OpenSecrets.Org.

Despite what you may have read, these are independent groups without a political agenda.

We are already seeing the ugly side of this election with disinformation campaigns and smear tactics fouling the air and tainting the process even though we still have a long way to go.

We’re seeing fraudulent stories posted by faux news sites deliberately intending to mislead. Innuendo and lies permeate our news feeds.

That’s why we have to take it upon ourselves to seek the truth, even if it might be difficult to handle.

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: edkociela.mx@gmail.com

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, StGeorgeUtah.com Inc., 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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18 Comments

  • Ron July 26, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    SNOPES is a credible source???? Hahahahaha……yeah if you are a liberal, progressive Democrat dedicated to their agenda.
    You a funny guy Ed…..hahahahaha….

    • Henry July 26, 2016 at 2:53 pm

      You’re right, Ron. PolitiFact is another discredited source. A 2011 University of Minnesota study and a 2013 George Mason University study both empirically demonstrated PolitiFacts’ progressive bias.

  • tcrider July 26, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    I still think when it came to 911, we invaded the wrong country.
    There were no weapons of mass destruction and the whole Iraq, axis of
    evil was a extreme waste of money and resources, it was all BS, we should of really
    invaded Saudi Arabia.

  • Bob July 26, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    simple answer: rely on credible news sources, to state the obvious. These sites Ed recommended here look like trash sites. I don’t dwell on social media trash enough to have heard anything about Jeffs being dead until this site posted it. Ed Kociela needs to write some actually interesting reads. Even an article about “9/11 conspiracy theorists” would be better than this. Step it up, Ed. You can do better.

  • anybody home July 26, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    All on-line media sources are driven by clicks and click bait is the way of the world, even among formerly responsible and respectable sources. The St. George News is a case in point regarding the Jeffs’ death story. Rather than a headline that said something like “Jeffs’ Death Story is False,” the headline read like something out of National Enquirer…I paraphrase here, but it was more like “Jeffs’ Death – True or False.”

    There’s no excuse for this kind of media pandering. The “respectable” media is also filled with speculative click bait articles like the one in the NY Times today speculating on what will happen with Bill Clinton if Hillary’s elected. This is not news.

    Newspapers of all kinds need to remember that the first part of their name is News. We really should rename most of them “speculationpapers.”

    As a former journalist myself, I’m sorry and often disgusted to see the state of today’s “news” media.

    • anybody home July 26, 2016 at 2:14 pm

      For clarification, here’s the actual headline from the St. George News story:
      “News short: Warren Jeffs found dead in prison?”

      Certainly a click bait headline. SGN can do better than this.

  • .... July 26, 2016 at 3:22 pm

    Everybody just calm down now ! Lmao. the Sesame Street news letter comes out tomorrow. LOL !

    • Real Life July 27, 2016 at 12:08 pm

      Oh man!!!! Good stuff! Is this guy funny, or what???

  • ladybugavenger July 26, 2016 at 4:36 pm

    It’s the media’s fault! haha!

    It will be a dark day and many dark days to come if Hillary be……I can’t say it!

    • Bob July 26, 2016 at 6:32 pm

      LOL, it will literally be dark times if Hitlery is elected. She plans to open the US borders to the entire 3rd world and bring them in by the millions like the germans have done–mexicans, arabs, pakis, africans–imagination is the limit. Plus, Hitlery is going to start a war with the russians. she is going to destroy the world

    • .... July 26, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      It’s your fault !

  • 42214 July 26, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    Ed, you’re pathetic.

    • Real Life July 26, 2016 at 7:04 pm

      You are right, that was weak.

      • .... July 27, 2016 at 9:23 am

        Oh wow what a profound statement you just made ! you better get some rest ..you must be exhausted. Aunt Hilly said Hello ….have a nice day

    • .... July 26, 2016 at 8:22 pm

      It’s Ed’s fault !

      • Real Life July 27, 2016 at 12:25 pm

        That’s like you blaming the pills.

        • .... July 27, 2016 at 11:59 pm

          I hope you enjoyed the family reunion with Aunt Hillary and Uncle Bill and Cousin Bernie. …hugs and kisses… love you two !

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