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What’s true and what’s not? Stay informed in the era of fake news

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Before Donald Trump co-opted the term, ‘fake news’ used to mean something. We are surrounded by more information and disinformation than ever before in the history of our species and as the writ drops on the 2018 Ontario election it will require us, as citizens of this democracy, to work harder than ever to identify bias and real sources of ‘fake news.’

What's true and what's not? Stay informed in the era of fake news
Columnist Ryan Oliver.

The modern media landscape requires us to all be more vigilant and to put work in to the content we are consuming. As you consume information, be it in a newspaper, through a Facebook group or in a tweet, look it up if the source isn’t immediately obvious or if you’re not sure it’s reliable. Active participation is not only a healthy cornerstone of democracy, but a vital survival tool in navigating the news landscape.

One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to immediately press ‘retweet’ or ‘share’ on a piece of unverified information. Take 15 seconds and give the core facts a Google. People can literally post and say anything they want without restraint in the Internet age and it becomes incumbent on us to ensure we aren’t spreading lies or exaggeration.

Large sites like Snopes.com cover most major international news stories, but for Canadian specific fact checking consider using a source like FactsCan. Check the major newspapers and the CBC. They have a more rigorous editorial process and while any given paper may slant to a certain opinion, they rarely promote outright lies. For the most part, if the Globe and Mail, Macleans, The National Post, Toronto Star or CBC are reporting statistics, you can count on them to be accurate.

Social media is a powerful tool and has the potential to be a great equalizer in democracy. Unfortunately, as the 2016 presidential elections proved and countless after countless stories since then showed, it’s largely a tool for disinformation.

Be aware that the Toronto Sun tabloid has been exposed as actively shilling for the Conservatives and by all accounts is not a neutral press agent. Be aware that Doug Ford has created a ‘news channel’ called Ford Nation Live. It’s made to mimic a real news source but, as you might be able to tell from the name, is only considering one side of any story. If you are a follower of Ontario Proud on Facebook, be aware they are actively campaigning for the Conservative party and often do so through meme content that rarely engages genuine discussion. They are also accused of frequently stunting and crushing dissenting views with lawsuits and legal action.

On the left, be aware that Press Progress is owned by the Broadbent Institute, named and founded by Ed Broadbent, former leader of the NDP. You may have noticed that The Lindsay Advocate covers a lot on Basic Income (a current Ontario Liberal policy with NDP support) and the Advocate’s founder wrote a book on the topic. Take that into consideration when reading the coverage.

None of the above points necessarily disqualifies the information being presented by these organizations, but be aware of who your sources are. When fighting fake news it’s important to be aware of where your information is coming from and if it’s in fact ‘news’ or simply propaganda dressed up as news.

Work to find the news you’re sharing in more than one location. If only one source is telling you that Kathleen Wynne eats babies, there might not be any truth to that. Avoid sharing those kind of memes as false information thrives in these often disposable, brief pieces meant to incite a base, emotional response.

Most importantly, be active in your news consumption. Research the candidates and issues and don’t take anything you’re told at face value.

The year 2016 proved that we’re back in school and we’ve all got to study up to arm ourselves as informed, democratic citizens.

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