People are attracted to a good conspiracy. Whether it’s a warning of imminent doom from the delightfully weird Infowars.com or a celebrity giving you their take on vaccinations, conspiracy theories abound everywhere.
Few people have been the subject of more conspiracy theories than U.S. President Barack Obama. According to the fact-checking website Snopes.com, Obama has been accused of everything from being born in Kenya to banning the Pledge of Allegiance in schools.
That’s why it seemed fitting on Oct. 13 that Obama spoke out about what he perceived to be the media’s role in perpetuating conspiracy theories.
In a conference at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh he suggested that there needed to be some sort of “curating function that people agree to” that will filter out information that doesn’t “have any basis in anything that’s actually happening in the world.”
The plan would not involve outright censorship, but the creation of a medium where unreliable information would be filtered out.
These sites make the occasional mistake, but they are a good source of information because they go into depth about why something is true or false. Even if you disagree with the outcome, they have “shown their work,” so to speak.
There are also news sites that double as fact-checkers, such as The Washington Posts which has its own Fact Checker section. The problem is that you can’t force somebody to go to a fact checking website.
An example: many parents do not vaccinate their children despite the scientific consensus that vaccines do not cause autism; all the fact-checking in the world couldn’t stop Disneyland from experiencing a measles outbreak because of this.
According to a piece by the Los Angeles Times, called “California’s measles outbreak is over, but the vaccine fight continues,” the areas that were affected by the virus had vaccination rates as low as 50 percent.
It’s sad to say, but I think some people just can’t be convinced that they are wrong. I have serious doubts that Obama’s plan would attract anyone who already distrusts the mainstream media; it would be seen by many as government-controlled news straight out of “1984.”
It’s not all bad news, though. Both Republicans and Democrats have done a serviceable job policing the truth: none other than Republican speaker Paul Ryan told Donald Trump the election would not be rigged. And, according to the educational group American Press Institute, 8 in 10 Americans view fact-checking favorably.
I don’t think that things are as dire for the state of truth as many like to say. There is a lot of misinformation floating around, but it is still quite possible to discern what the truth is if you look for it.
Whatever program is eventually implemented decides to do, it will not succeed in eliminating misinformation from our lives. There will always be distortions, omissions and straight-up whoppers. The best we can do is try to have a keen eye for spotting something that looks fishy.