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Ted Markle: For real news, please DON’T fake it till you make it

Reports suggest Veles, Macedonia, is home to at least 100 false U.S. news sites.
Reports suggest Veles, Macedonia, is home to at least 100 false U.S. news sites.

Fake smile? Few things are as annoying or condescending. Fake food? I once cracked a tooth chomping on a wooden apple. Fake handbags? Trust me, Sue can spot the difference a mile away. Fake flowers? Future generations will shake their heads. Fake orgasms? … I mean, really?

Ted Markle

And the latest trend in phoniness (fuelled by social media) is toxic to our relationships, ruins informed debate, and erodes our democratic traditions. I’m talking here about fake news.

The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times are going to have different points of view. Same goes for The Globe and Mail, The Charlottetown Guardian or The National (but not coast-to-coast) Post.

What none of these are going to do, however, is fabricate news. Sure, they make mistakes from time to time – more so nowadays with the drive to be first online – but when mistakes occur, they generally own up to it and correct it.

Dozens of fake news sites – many originating from Macedonia of all places – are poisoning the Internet with their stories, created with absolutely no regard for journalism ethics and standards. Put simply, they are making stuff up.

The fictitious camouflaged as authentic is overwhelming. It's not even close: With more than 50 per cent of us using Facebook as a source for news, it’s by far the world's biggest media company.

And when posts from phony news sites are in the same social media stream as ones hailing from The Economist, The Telegram or The Labradorian – they are given a completely unwarranted legitimacy.

Whether it’s the never-happened 1998 People Magazine interview with Donald Trump calling republicans “the dumbest group of voters in the country” or the fabricated medical report claiming Hillary suffered from “uncontrollable twitching,” “memory loss” and “early onset … dementia,” poppycock news is pervasive.

Making matters worse, the general tone of shared political commentary on social media is that of a juvenile and pugnacious boy – inviting us to support his superficial assertions. “Share this post if you agree that Justin Trudeau is an idiot.” “Like this post if you think Harper is a fascist!”

I think we can all agree that if we don’t raise the standard of our exchanges up to at least high-school level – we’re doomed.

In what we can only hope is not a case of “too little too late,” Google and Facebook have just announced that they are going to try and limit access of fake news organizations to their platforms.

What can we do?

The best thing we can do is to subscribe to real newspapers and read real news sources – ideally from across perspectives. Validate the source of your news before you believe it, share it or repeat it.

To paraphrase our current Prime Minister, our political opponent is not our enemy. Lies and personal attacks that have no bearing on real arguments are our common enemies. Informed, animated, even passionate discourse is our common goal.

Unless the quality of our debate is above that of the schoolyard bully, and we strive to separate the facts from the lies, we will share the same destiny as the dunces in the corner.

Ted Markle, a media industry veteran of more than 30 years, is a keen observer of the humorous side of the human situation. He appears in this space every Monday. You can reach him at ted.markle@tc.tc. – Twitter : @tedmarkle

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