Like most of you, I regularly get emails and social media posts from friends forwarding a “news story” that turn out not to be news at all. Two, in particular, stand out.
Just before the election I received an email forwarding a story that then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford had resigned and written a letter to President Obama essentially accusing the President of treason. There was just one problem. General Dunford had not resigned and had not sent any letter.
The second was an email forwarding a supposed story from People magazine claiming that Donald Trump in a 1998 interview had said the Republican voters were stupid and he could lie to them and they would “eat it up.” But same problem, the interview never took place.
Both of my friends who sent the emails are intelligent, well-read, well-intentioned individuals. But in both cases, the emails they received fit nicely into their predisposed beliefs about Obama and Trump. It is human nature for us to embrace validations of what we believe and to discredit facts that are at odds with our beliefs.
Before cable news and the internet, we had a more balanced national conversation. We were all exposed to a more or less similar set of facts from which to inform our beliefs. But today, information outlets are highly compartmentalized. Our outlet selections and targeting by advocacy groups make it more likely we will only hear “news” that reinforces what we already believe to be true.
Of course, the pursuit of truth requires exactly the opposite. Science has taught us that we validate theories by testing them objectively and actively looking for data that contradicts the theory.
I was skeptical of both of these emails and so I ran them through www.snopes.com
. Within a few seconds, I had determined that both were hoaxes. If you are not familiar with Snopes, it is a website devoted to debunking fake internet and email stories. There are several other sites that perform similar research such as www.FactCheck.org
, and www.Politifact.com
I “replied to all” to both emails, politely pointing out that each of the stories had been debunked. I only received two emails in reply, one from each instance. Both asked me to never email them again!
Here is my suggestion. If you receive an email of see a social media post that you are inclined to share with contacts, before you hit “forward” or “share”, run the story through Snopes or one of the other fact checking website. I think you maybe surprised how often the “news” you receive in your inbox or on your social platforms are complete hoaxes, or at least, hugely taken out of context. Let’s all endeavor not be part of this problem.