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Fake vs. Real: Who Decides?

The whole “fake news” issue is interesting on several levels. It’s obviously a polarizing issue, one that pits followers of the mainstream media against those who follow alternative or “conspiracy” media. However, it also brings up the deeper issue of epistemology, the branch of philosophy that asks “how do we know what we know? How do we know what’s true?”

The mainstream media has been doing all it can to discredit Donald Trump and his presidency. Along with the charge of “fake news” is the issue of playing with facts — the accusation that Trump and his cabinet are claiming that they can have their own facts, while rational people recognize that facts are objectively true or not.

My goal is not to defend Trump, who has already made some serious missteps in my view (such as moving forward with his wall and the Dakota pipeline). The point of this article is really the underlying issue of real vs. fake news and objective vs. subjective “facts.”

Here’s a popular meme that’s been circulating the web:

Fight Fake news. Know who is reputable. 

This diagram epitomizes the simplistic, propagandistic intentions of the mainstream media. First of all, look at how perfectly symmetrical the image is. Huffington Post is exactly opposed to Fox News, the allegedly unreliable extreme liberal and extreme conservative sides of the diagram are mirror images of each other. This in itself should make you think. Is reality ever this clearcut?

But the real issue here is authority. Whoever made this diagram arrogantly tells us “don’t read this” for sites such as Natural News and Infowars. This is actually a version of the ad hominem argument, “against the man,” where you attempt to refute an argument based on the character of the speaker rather than on what’s actually said.

Today, we are supposed to prejudge news stories based on the sources. Yet, before doing this, you might want to ask a few questions:

What About Mainstream “Fake News?”

25 Fake News Stories From The Mainstream Media

Of course, we could fall into an infinite loop here and say, “is the site that publishes that information reliable?” All I can say is, check it out for yourself.

Who Owns the Media?

Lest we forget, the supposedly reliable mainstream media -the people who tell us what is real and what is fake- is hardly objective.

These 15 Billionaires Own America’s News Companies

Do you think it’s even remotely possible that these 15 billionaires and the corporations they own might have vested interests of their own?

Facts Actually Do Change

Beware of the argument from authority, which is kind of the other side of the coin from ad hominem. Here, the argument is true because the person who said it is reliable or an expert. This is the way many so-called conspiracy theories, from vaccines cause autism to 9/11 was an inside job to climate change is not caused by humans are supposedly refuted. Mainstream media and its followers will say something like “90% of scientists say…” as proof of something.

Yet all this proves is that this is consensus reality right now. This doesn’t mean you should believe every conspiracy theory, but just remember that the skeptic’s favorite line “facts don’t change” isn’t quite true. If you look at the history of science, our understanding has changed drastically over the centuries.

The Top 10 Most Spectacularly Wrong Widely Held Scientific Theories

Whom Should You Trust?

So should you trust mainstream media or alternative media? Really, you should trust no one. Trusting someone because they’re reliable is the argument from authority. Distrusting something because the source is unreliable (e.g. Alex Jones is a paranoid lunatic) is ad hominem.

Trusting the corporate media today is naive and not nearly as rational as many like to assume. However, there are serious problems with the alternative media as well. For one thing, how do we know that some of these conspiracy leaders aren’t planted by the mainstream? It’s also possible that (as we’re frequently told nowadays) that foreign governments may plant false news for their own purposes. Some alternative and conspiracy sources may be simply profiting from the popularity of conspiracy theories today. Furthermore, if you study conspiracies you’ll find that many contradict one another. So it’s just as naive to blindly believe in alternative media as mainstream.

The only rational position is to keep an open mind and look at everything on a case-by-case basis.