Thursday, May 29, 2014

Can you trust what you read?

When words are printed on paper or put on a computer screen they seem to have much more authority than when they are merely spoken.

I personally have put hundreds of thousands—maybe even millions—of words on the pages of books, newspapers, magazines, websites and even on packages of food and motor oil. (My books generally have from 35,000 to 75,000 words. My newest book has about 52,000 words.)

Take it from me, those words have no more authority than when they are in my head or emanate from my mouth.

I’ve published some highly successful April Fool’s scam news reports. Supposedly “you can’t bullshit a bullshitter,”  but I confess to being fooled several times.

  • At one time, before words were published, they were checked, edited, verified, vetted, sanctioned and approved by a series of people with knowledge and standards.
  • In the 21st century, there is little or none of that. Just as anyone can sue anyone for anything, anyone can say—and publish—anything about anyone or anything.

While there are many reliable sources of information, there are many that are unreliable (some, such as satirical websites, are deliberately unreliable). Sadly—or humorously—the unreliable sources often seem as reliable as the reliable sources.

The digital manipulation that makes modern sci-fi movies so realistic could create realistic—and phony—videos of events that never happen.

So, how can you determine which sources to trust and which words to believe?
  • Follow multiple media, with different political viewpoints, from different cities and maybe even from different countries.
  • Apply common sense. If something seems truly outrageous, it may be not true.
  • Ask experts who have been truthful and accurate in the past.
  • Don’t automatically accept news, advice or information from people and institutions that want to sell you something.
  • Most people know that The Onion publishes untrue satire, but there are many similar but less-known sites such as The Daily Currant and The Borowitz Report. Some satire sites have fine print that explain that they are not to be believed—but some don’t.
  • A few days ago I published a satirical post on this blog—but it was taken seriously by at least one person who should have known better.
  • Don’t believe anything published on April first. 

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