Faking it

Trent Ernst, Editor

A few years back, our carriers went out and dropped off papers to every house in Tumbler Ridge with a note that said, basically, “if you want to start getting the newspaper, let us know.”

Some people, of course, were a little confused, because why would they want to get the newspaper?

“I get my news from Facebook.”

At the time, I thought that the quality of reporting on Facebook was horrible, but I bit my tongue.

Now, however, with the whole “fake news” fiasco, I figure I should chime in.

Because, well, the quality of reporting on Facebook is horrible.

Here’s the way a typical story spreads.

“SWEDEN BANS CHRISTMAS LIGHTS TO AVOID ANGERING MUSLIMS!” screams the headline.

“Why, as someone who hasn’t darkened the door of a church since I was seven, that offends my Christian sensibilities,” says someone who hasn’t darkened the door of a church since they were seven.

And so they get mad, and share the story, often with a tag espousing how troubling they find the fact that Christmas is being killed because of Muslim refugees. And they curse Muslims and they spread hate, and they feel self-righteous in their good work.

Trouble is, they’ve also spread a complete fabrication. Not about the Christmas Lights. That part is true. But the reasons have nothing to do with sensibilities, religious or otherwise.

Trafikverket, the Swedish Transport Administration, says they will no longer allow local municipalities to hang Christmas lights on the street poles under its control.

The reasons? Well, there are two. First, the law doesn’t authorize the agency to share its electricity, and second, the poles aren’t designed to bear extra weight, so Christmas decorations are a safety hazard.

And so we share the video making the rounds, pointing out how gullible everyone out there is, but not us, no, safe and smug here in our little town.

But here’s the thing. It happens here, too.

A while back, when we were still delivering the Dawson Creek Mirror, and a ten year old kid couldn’t carry 100 copies of our newspaper bundle, one of our carriers went to deliver the newspaper.

And her mom dropped her off and helped her stack the newspapers on the side of the road so she could split the route into two parts.

And someone took a video of the carrier saying “What the heck?” Which, thanks to the echo chamber that is Facebook, it quickly became “stupid kids,” and “let’s blame the Muslims.”

During the most recent US election, a group of teens from Macedonia punked the entire system, posting clickbait political stories, selling ads against the stories and making a whole bunch of money. And the stories? Completely made up.

We live in an era of citizen journalism. I get that. And I respect that. But here’s the thing: citizen journalists don’t always know the rules of journalism, from citing sources to avoiding libel. No, this isn’t going to be a “you should read the Tumbler Ridge News because we’re the only accurate and factual news source for Tumbler Ridge” editorial. Heck, I get it wrong sometimes, too.

Instead, I challenge you to think critically about what is being said. If something seems too sensational to be true, there’s a good chance it isn’t. (Except for the story about the dude who dissolved in boiling acid; that one is totally true.) Consider the repercussions of sharing a story without verifying the facts. If in doubt, go to a primary source. Do due diligence. Do your research. And if you’re too lazy? Then don’t share the story or rumour. In a word, think.