My husband and I were planning date night. There was a new restaurant in town, so we Googled it.
On a site that posts restaurant reviews, supposedly submitted by customers, my spouse read aloud what was possibly the worst review I’ve ever heard.
Tepid soup handed back to an insolent waiter. The patron, within earshot, called “stupid” by the expeditor. The list went on as the poor service and insults — one from the owner himself — continued. I started to giggle.
“Wait a minute, that might be a fake review,” I said. This new spot had been getting good press.
A restaurant review — or any online submitted review — can definitely be bogus. Your mom in Peoria may send in a glowing description of your new lunch spot in Dallas even though she has never left Illinois. Or your competitor from down the block, who has never set foot in your establishment, may assert he ate the worst meal of his life there, complete with cranky waitress and a hair in the salad.
You have to take online reviews with, pardon the pun, a grain of salt.
Now we know, on a far more serious and threatening level, that we have to take the “news” we see online with a block of salt.
Not only was our recent election threatened by fake news planted, allegedly, by sites in Russia and Eastern Europe, but National Public Radio, in a Nov. 23 “All Things Considered” report, found a man in California who was responsible for scores of widely read fake news, most of it anti-Clinton.
Claiming to be a Democrat, the man said it was easier to get the pro-Trump people to click on fake news than it was to get liberals to do so. So, since getting those clicks is very lucrative business, he cast aside any principles he obviously didn’t have anyway, and went with anti-Clinton stuff.
For example, maybe you saw a story online: “FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apparent murder-suicide.” Written by the operation in California, the story was a complete and total fabrication. No such agent, no such murder-suicide. But the story had traction.
People make money off of clicks, and Facebook and Twitter are receiving increasing pressure to police their platforms for these fake stories.
But the thing is, folks, it’s up to us to be better-informed, better-read citizens. First of all, if you are one of the many Americans who get most of your news on Facebook, please stop right now. If you must find your news online, always go to established news sources, like The New York Times, The Atlantic or our own Catholic News Service and a host of others.
If, while perusing Facebook or Twitter, you see a story that sounds compelling — and these fake sites are great at producing eyebrow-raising headlines — don’t click until you evaluate the source. Some fake sites try to sound suspiciously like real sites you trust. Tread carefully.
Leonard Pitts Jr., a syndicated columnist for the Miami Herald, has a great antidote for fake news. He made a pitch recently for a medium that isn’t perfect, but isn’t fraudulent.
“So what, you ask, is this miracle medium?” Pitts asks in a Nov. 27 column. “It’s called a ‘newspaper.'”
Real journalists have gone to journalism school. They know the First Amendment and journalistic ethics. They enhance our democracy rather than threaten it. Although imperfect, they are not “the lame stream media” as they’ve been foolishly tarred.
And they are not inventing lies to make money off gullible citizens.