Fake News and William Shakespeare

Fake news is real. And believe it or not the practice is as old as time.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since the presidential election, you’ve most likely heard how the newly minted term ‘fake news’ changed the outcome of the election.

For what it is worth, I’d like to give you more credit than that. Fake news did not get Donald Trump elected to the office of the presidency.

The concept and practice of fake news is nothing new. People have ben planting half-truths and outright lies designed for public for consumption forever. Governments, political organizations, and people simply hoping to advance different point of view, have used the tool of disinformation forever. Don’t act surprised.

What strikes me odd is how this entire discussion moves the finger pointing to the source of misinformation instead of the receiver. Have we all lost our critical thinking skills? Did we ever believe the Pope endorsed Donald Trump? Or did we truly believe Hillary Clinton was a pedophile? And did these outrageous claims that were presented as legitimate, vetted news change wide swaths of voters’ opinions? I seriously doubt that.

Additionally, people are also tossing the blame for this so-called interference on social media for the outcome of the election. That, while misguided to whom the responsibility is rooted, is an equally weak argument.

Granted the Pew Research Center found in a 2016 study that 62% of people get news from social media. And at the time, 18% admitted gathering a majority of their news from social media. But to say broad numbers of the American public suddenly became unable to discern real news sources from fake ones is as ridiculous as the claims the fake news sites presented in the first place.

Delivery systems come and go. Whether overheard while in a crowd, a paper flyer wedged into the door of your home, or an article posted on social media, the messenger is not at fault. There was once a time when the then-new delivery tool, motion pictures, became the popular tool. During World War II, entire armies of filmmakers were employed by the Nazi’s and Allied forces to create compelling shorts to influence public opinion. And neither side let the truth get in the way then, either.

Today we live in a world where the requirement for intelligent and critical thinking skills will only increase in relationship to the volume and influence of content outlets. Social media is no more a villain than the silver screen where a government propaganda film was once showing. The responsibility rests the receiver.

Today, more than ever, the phrase ‘Buyer Beware” applies. No more than you’d loan an uncle your nest egg with hopes of earning a fast 50% with little of no risk, you should not consume without thinking.

Or as William Shakespeare wrote in 1599 in his play Julius Caesar: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.”

Yes, he means us.

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