The 13th Clown is normally a happy-go-lucky fella with only the occasional bouts of clinical depression which cause him to visit school bus stops to terrorize children, thus elevating his spirits.
However, the Clown has been in what he calls his “Emmett Kelly” mood, one that suggests that a general clean-up of the joint is necessary if sunnier times are to prevail.
During the most recent campaign season, which has run from January, 2004 until….well, actually it never seems to end, the Clown was often the recipient of Internet-distributed “news” that was verifiably false. Such material has lately become known as Fake News. A better name would be “Bullsh*t”. Yet, various acquaintances and long-lost friends have sent me such missives with the belief that what they were sending was true, usually as it related to purported great crimes and misdemeanors perpetrated by whoever the sender found loathsome.
Eons ago, at what we graduates refer to as the Princeton of the Prairie, a.k.a. Wichita State, the Clown studied journalism. The J School faculty consisted mostly of crusty old reporters who needed the extra adjunct professor money because being a crusty old reporter didn’t (and doesn’t) pay that well. These instructors were very strict about the basic skill set needed to get and keep a job as a journalist: recognizing a news-worthy story, verifying the facts, tracking down sources for attribution, writing the story in the pyramid style to an 8th grade level and owning a cheap fedora.
After a stint in the U.S. Army (salute) as a journalist, the Clown sought a different career, one that would allow him to actually, you know, own stuff. Even so, the Clown internalized the lessons of journalism and finds them useful in his current observations of the world.
At the cost of alienating a handful of acquaintances, The Clown hits “Reply All” to Fake News when received. The Clown, in the most upbeat way possible, provides information or sources that refute obvious lies or misleading spin. The Clown feels that such responses are his duty as a citizen interested in the common weal of the good ‘ol U.S. of A. The Reply All gambit is meant to blunt the further spread of Fake News, at least on one little branch of the web.
Disturbingly, there is now money to be made by producing Fake News. One fellow, 38 year-old Paul Horner, claims to “make like $10,000 a month” creating Fake News. When asked why so many people like pass along his fabrications that like help generate ad revenue, Mr. Horner like responded, “Honestly, people are like definitely dumber”. Dumber than what? you might ask. Well, dumber than a crusty old reporter, like apparently.
Even though Facebook and Google have vowed to “crack down” on Fake News, the cottage industry is likely to thrive as long as there is political or financial advantage to be had.
Trying to completely stop Fake News is a worthy but unreachable goal. This is especially true when anyone and everyone with an Internet-connected device can be a creator or distributor of “news”, fake or otherwise. We are all reporters now and tens of million of us aren’t any good at it. And, tens of million of us can’t separate the grain from the chaff and so become both victims and perpetrators, all with a click of a mouse. This, the Clown contends, is really, really bad for any society.
One part of a solution is to insure that students, as a routine part of education, be given the skills necessary to be “media literate”, that is the ability to separate the information chaff from the news grain.
Stony Brook University on Long Island has introduced such a course of study and it has become so popular that it is now required for graduation. The university has made the course materials available, at no cost, to any school or school system as long as Stony Brook gets recognition for its efforts. The best time to start such instruction, however, is in the high schools. Getting “news” for teenagers means getting information via cell phones connected to the Internet. While the volume of real news stays constant, bullsh*t multiplies exponentially on the Internet.
We had better take media literacy seriously before media illiteracy fully undermines the Republic and that erosion is rapidly increasing.
There now, don’t you feel like scaring some school children?
Observoid of the Day: Clark Kent left perfectly good suits in telephone booths all over town.