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Can we all take a breath?

The latest uproar on fake news comes compliments of 20th Century Fox when it created fake news sites as part of a marketing campaign for an upcoming movie.

A New York Times story on the topic quoted Susan Credle, global creative officer of the ad agency FCB:

“Fake news is not a cute or silly subject. When you start to tear down media and question what’s real and what’s not real, our democracy is threatened.”

Our democracy is threatened?

Whether you call it fake news, hyperbole or lies — take your pick — this stuff has been going on since the republic’s founding. You don’t think that George McClellan who challenged an entrenched Lincoln for the presidency in 1864 didn’t come up with a few doozies to siphon votes?

Take a trip to your local public library, sit down at a microfilm station and research presidential campaigns of yore. You’ll find that presidents of varied sizes and ideologies shared one common denominator. They all said disparaging things about their opponents that weren’t always true.

Of course, I understand the dynamics are different today, thanks to social media and the velocity with which these falsehoods travel.

But fake news doesn’t threat democracy.

What threatens democracy is laziness. When people don’t take the time to figure out the source behind the information and answer the question, “Is that source trustworthy?” the end result is hyperventilation or confirmation bias or both.

Our high schools and universities should be teaching classes on how to frame online information with context. That’s the antidote to fake news.

Because fake news will continue to resurface in forms we can’t predict. It’s context that deflates the information into harmless rubble.

As for the 20th Century Fox charade, they must have concluded that the quality of the movie called for a high-risk/high-reward marketing.

PR agency head Richard Edelman said:

“It’s a very kind of perverse use of a genre that is really counterproductive. I don’t think fake news is funny in the least. If people want to have stunts, fine, but one of the great dangers it seems to me at the moment is people can’t differentiate between that which is real and that which is a fake story.”

Actually, I think fake news has the potential to be quite funny and suspect we’ll see plenty of fake news parodies in the coming months.

But Mr. Edelman is right about one thing.

The problem is that people can’t differentiate between what’s real and what is fake.

That’s what needs to be fixed.

Exhale.

Side note: This slippery slope of what constitutes news comes in varied forms. The Wall Street Journal published an eight-page supplement from Russia called “Russia Beyond the Headlines.” It does say “Advertising Section” at the top and it does carry the disclaimer, Still, with a “look and feel” mimicking a newspaper and being horse-shoe close to the Journal’s design, I’m sure a large percent of readers assumed they were reading the Journal. One man’s news is another man’s propaganda.


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