Three Tips for Spotting Fake News

It's 2020, the presidential campaign is already in full swing, and Facebook is a veritable mosh pit of angry people hurling their bodies against each other while a full-throated death metal band roars the day's news and we club each other with the latest gotcha journalism.

Those of us who still carry the scars and stress of 2016 know all too well what this year's campaign is going to bring.

We're going to have to deal with politicians who have been emboldened to lie, cheat, and steal only to shout "FAKE NEWS!" any time the media publishes a story about their misdeeds.

We're going to have to deal with Russian operatives planting fake stories and building fake newspapers, publishing lie after lie after lie.

And just when we figured all that out, now there's something called "Deep Fake" videos. These are videos that have been created to look and sound as if they had been created in real life, but were actually created completely by computer.

Imagine taking Roy Scheider's famous line from "Jaws" — "You're gonna need a bigger boat" — and replacing it with "I feel pretty and witty and bright," making his mouth move so it looks like that's what he actually said.

You could even produce a new movie with a dead movie star's voice and image, putting them in unlikely scenarios. Like John Wayne in Star Wars or Charlie Chaplin fighting Rocky Balboa.

Now imagine deep fakes of politicians doing or saying terrible things. Or athletes robbing banks. Or actresses participating in pornographic videos.

Now you understand the problem.

Imagine someone creates a deep fake video of your least favorite politician admitting to some heinous crime. Or pledging their loyalty to the lizard people who live at the center of the Earth. Now there's "proof" that the politician is more of a crook and nutjob than usual.

Except it never actually happened.

Not that it mattered. That video will be shared by every mouth-breathing yahoo who "knew it all along" and thinks this is going to be the end of that politician's career.

And it will wrongly persuade a lot of voters through fraud and deceit.

(If you were going to say, "But all politicians do that," take a seat, clever-pants. You aren't even the first person to say it in the last five minutes.)

As members of this democracy, we need to be vigilant. We can't share every crazy news story or video that plops into our social media toilet. We can't participate in the Russian attempts to disintegrate our society. We have to watch out for actual fake news and deep fake videos constantly.

Here are a few helpful hints to help you spot fake stories.

1) If a story is makes you shout, "Holy $#&!, their entire political career just burned to the ground!" it's probably a fake. Remember, if it's too good to be true, it usually is.

Presidential candidates live such buttoned-up lives, they won't eat a sandwich without a poll telling them what kind of mustard, so they certainly wouldn't do anything so stupid as to, say, run an illegal operation out of their campaign headquarters. Well, most of them, anyway.

2) Look for the story on the mainstream media. If it's not there, it's probably fake.

Sure, sure, you think all media is crooked and none of them would tell the truth if it bit them on the ass, but that's just lazy thinking on your part.

You need to understand what the mainstream media fears the most: 1) Making a stupid mistake, and 2) getting sued for it. They're so afraid of #2 that they do everything to avoid #1.

If media outlets lied as much as politicians claimed, they would be flooded with hundreds of lawsuits. Instead, those shrieks of "fake news!" are just toothless chest puffery to distract you from what the politicians have actually done.

Generally, if a politician says a mainstream news story is fake, it's probably real.

3) If someone posts a story on social media and says "the mainstream media won't publish this," that's nonsense. Remember, there are outlets on both sides of the political spectrum. If there was a juicy piece of news that made the other side look bad, they would publish it.

If no one publishes it, it means they all knew it was fake. If only one side publishes it, it's probably real. If they both publish it, it's definitely real.

So if a Facebook friend says "the media won't cover this,"what they actually mean is the story is complete garbage, or they're news illiterate and did absolutely zero research.

We all gravitate toward stories and news outlets that make us feel good about our choices. All of us. No one is 100% objective while the rest of the world is completely wrong.

Rather than trying to convince each other about your correctness or the other side's jack-assery, focus instead of squashing fake news stories before they get out of hand. Don't let the Russian operatives and anti-democracy trolls plunge us deeper into the lies and slime that have covered us for the last four years.

Because I got an email that said Bill Gates will give us $1 million if we do that.

Photo credit: Frederick Burr Opper (Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

My new humor novel, Mackinac Island Nation, is finished and available on Amazon. You can get the Kindle version here or the paperback version here.