Earlier this week a `fake’ news story made the rounds of Twitter and Facebook, suggesting that students at an Elementary school in Olanthe, Kansas had been infected with the Ebola virus. When I was first alerted to the story, I did a quick search, found the offending article, and quickly determined it was fake.
Unfortunately, the story did what it was intended to to – it went `viral’ – and I’m sure it brought a lot of attention (and web hits) to the `entertainment site’ which published it as if it were a genuine news story.
Within a matter of hours Snopes.com had an entry debunking the story (see Ebola School), and local media and the Olathe Public School district were heavily engaged in damage control (see KC Star Olathe School District becomes target of false Ebola rumor).
This trend in `fabricated news’ is a disturbing one, particularly when it deals with something as serious as Ebola, but is hardly new. It is the cyber version of the trashy tabloids sold for decades in checkout lanes around the world. But with the way content is delivered online – piecemeal via twitter and social media instead on cheap newsprint - much harder to identify as bogus.
Unlike The Onion, and other satirical sites, there’s little in the article to suggest that some serious leg pulling is going on.
While arguably the most egregious example of Ebola reporting I’ve seen, I’m finding very little in the media that isn’t – one way or another – biased, misleading, exploitative, or obviously hyped up in order to drive web traffic and sell advertising.
So much so that – except for the work of a handful of solid science reporters (think Branswell, Fox, Besser, Gale, and a short list of others) – I find very little reportage I can use in this blog without feeling as if I’m compounding a felony.
I have a firm rule: If the headline, or lede, of an article contains the words `Terrifying’, `Deadly’, `Horrific’, or `Explodes’ or `Explosion’ (unless, of course, the story is about an actual explosion) I won’t bother with it, much less use it in this space.
There is a lot of stuff out there pretending to be news, that is really just propaganda (for or against just about anything you can imagine), partisan rhetoric, or is little more than a lurid sideshow designed to extract your `one thin dime, 1/10th of a dollar’, by enticing you to follow some salacious click-bait.
Sadly, even as the technology to quickly deliver content improves, the quality of that content is more suspect than ever.
Making Caveat Lector about Ebola, and just about anything else you see, the watchword of the day.