by Dr Mercola
Unless you’ve been living under a rock or hiding beneath the covers in your bed for the past couple of months, you’ve undoubtedly heard the war cries against “fake news.”
Facebook — being the largest social media site on which news is shared among millions — has vowed to take steps to limit the amount of “misinformation” that can be spread on its site by forwarding suspected fake news stories to fact-checkers like Snopes.
So-called disputed stories would then be “buried” lower in people’s newsfeeds. However, while verifying celebrity deaths or disputing urban legends — Snopes’ specialty — is a pretty easy task, debating matters about health and nutrition is an altogether different matter.
If Snopes, whose office is reportedly filled with junk food, is now the arbiter of truth when it comes to health — you can expect to see massive censorship of natural health and general promotion of industry talking points.
Thomas Jefferson once wrote that if he were ever to decide between a government without newspapers or newspapers witthout government he would not hesitate a moment to prefer the later.
Remember that 90 percent of U.S. media is controlled by six corporations, making it virtually impossible to get any information that is not consistent with their agenda to maximize their profits. The only bastion of hope to find out the truth is the uncensored internet.
It seems these corporations are taking advantage of the current sense of confusion, and are using their existing control to silence disagreement in a manner that strongly reminds me of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s efforts in the 1950s to accuse many innocent people of being communists.
The murky war on fake news
By definition, fake news stories would be articles that are figments of someone’s imagination or contain outright falsehoods. On the one end of clear-cut fake news you have The Onion, a well-known satire site.
On the other, you have RealTrueNews.org, which claims to create intentionally fake stories “to make those who share fake right-wing news … more aware that they’re susceptible to stories written in [their] language that are complete, obvious [and] utter fabrications,” The Daily Beast reports.
In the middle, you have shoddy journalism in general, where bias, corporate and political influence, unreliable sources, malleable ethics and general laziness or plain lack of experience result in a wide array of news of questionable quality and accuracy.
The main difference is that everything in this middle gray-zone usually claims to be based in fact and truth. But is censoring or blacklisting the best way to address so-called “fake news” — especially when a vast majority of it falls in this gray zone?
Of course, people are also allowed to express their opinions (ideally, journalists should make such statements clear), which cannot be arbitrated as true or false per se.
“The problem of fake news isn’t solved by hoping for a referee but rather because we as participants, we as citizens, we as users of these services help each other.
The answer to bad speech is not censorship. The answer to bad speech is more speech. We have to exercise and spread the idea that critical thinking matters now more than ever, given the fact that lies seem to be getting very popular,” Snowden told Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey.
Facebook and fake news
Facebook has announced it will stem the tide of fake news stories — the magnitude of which is estimated to be a fraction of 1 percent of the network’s content — by allowing users to flag a post as fake news. Flagged posts would then be handed over to a coalition of fact-checkers.
But who exactly are these fact-checkers, and do they have the appropriate qualifications to arbiter “truth?”
It’s difficult for any given individual to determine what is 100 percent accurate without significant personal insight into the topic at hand, and the ability to accurately sort through scientific research, should such a thing be necessary.
Attention to detail, an inquiring mind and following a thorough process that includes looking at things from many sides would also be helpful. There’s also the issue of bias. A professional fact-checker can have none.
With all of that in mind, the coalition of fact-checkers selected by Facebook to police our news feeds — which include Snopes, PolitiFact, the Associated Press, FactCheck.org and ABC News — raises concerns.
When it comes to fake information, it is ironic that Facebook and Google relentlessly promote “fake” information in the form of advertisements for pharmaceuticals and other businesses — their primary form of revenue earnings. Will Snopes also be verifying the validity of their promoted advertisements?
It seems nearly every ad they perpetuate contains “fake” information, yet they have no concerns raking in the cash by promoting pharmaceutical and other industry perspectives.
Who are Snopes?
The danger of giving certain entities the power to tag a news story as “fake” or “real” is clearly demonstrated by recent revelations about Snopes. After Facebook announced Snopes would be used to fact-check stories, The Daily Mail questioned Snopes’ façade as a paragon of truth.
Snopes was created in 1995 by Barbara and David Mikkelson to explore the truth and fiction behind myths and urban legends (see video above). According to the Daily Mail’s investigation into the company, the couple posed as “The San Fernardo Valley Folklore Society” when they first started — a society that, in fact, does not exist as a legal entity.
David has admitted they created the fake society, with official-looking stationary and all, “to help make the inquiries seem more legit.” The Mikkelsons divorced in 2015, but are still locked in a heated legal battle over corporate and private funds. Barbara claims David embezzled $98,000 of company money, allegedly spending it on “himself and prostitutes,” and used corporate funds for his personal use, including attorney’s fees, without consulting her.
David, on the other hand, claims he’s been underpaid, and is demanding an “industry standard” rate of at least $360,000 per year. He’s currently making $240,000 a year from Snopes. He also accuses Barbara of taking millions of dollars from their joint bank accounts to buy property. According to the Daily Mail, David’s attorneys have also “blasted Barbara as ‘a loose cannon who simply must have her way.'”
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Snopes is just another voice for the status quo
A perfect example of why Snopes should have nothing to do with arbitrating health news is its “debunking” of safety concerns about aspartame. This case also demonstrates the insidious and dangerous effect of bias, which can come from the very highest levels. Snopes bases its decision on the 1999 testimony of David Hattan, Ph.D., acting director of the Division of Health Effects Evaluation in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.
Clearly, he is a person of authority. And yet he’s wrong. Entire books have been written delineating the cover-up and political shenanigans that allowed aspartame on the market and has kept it there ever since, despite warnings from scientists both before and after its release. Reputable scientists have also refuted a number of Hattan’s comments, such as the idea that aspartame may only cause problems in individuals with a rare genetic disorder.
At the very least, Snopes would need to read the books and review the aspartame research that shows harm, and there are many such studies. Instead, they took the easy way out. As a result, a lot of people are not properly forewarned and may be hurt.
Ditto for Roundup. On November 16, 2016, Snopes looked into claims made by Food Babe that the FDA might have shut down its residue testing of glyphosate due to complaints from Monsanto. “False,” Snopes declared. Ironically, the page declaring that no corporate influence played a role, AND that “the broad scientific consensus is that [glyphosate] is not a risk,” contains a prominent ad for the Bayer-Monsanto merger.
This clearly demonstrates the danger of having advertisers. Even if they don’t tell you what to say, their ad makes it appear as though they most likely did. In this case, the nail in the proverbial coffin is a Twitter exchange that clearly shows the fact-checker for Snopes, Alex H. Kasprak, got his information about glyphosate’s safety from Kevin Folta, Ph.D.
Folta, a University of Florida professor and a vocal advocate of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), who vehemently denied ever receiving any money from Monsanto, was caught lying about his financial ties to the company in 2015. In fact, the evidence suggests he purposely solicited the funds with intent to hide the source.
Everyone knows that with the money comes influence, and Folta himself promised a “return on investment” in writing. This just goes to show that part of fact-checking is background-checking your sources as well, and considering the many different angles available.