A clear and present danger to democracy

According to a story posted three years ago on nationalreport.net, one Colorado pot shop is accepting food stamps. That’s right, taxpayer-funded marijuana for welfare recipients.

Er, wait. That doesn’t sound right.

We’ve heard it a thousand times before: Just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s true. The spread of fake news, like the above-mentioned story, is dangerous business — one we must all confront and put a stop to.

Jestin Coler, the author of the nationalreport.net story, was amazed by how easy it was to spread fake news, according to an NPR broadcast.

“What that turned into was a state representative in the House in Colorado proposing actual legislation to prevent people from using their food stamps to buy marijuana based on something that had just never happened,” Coler was quoted as saying on an NPR “All Things Considered” broadcast from Nov. 23.

This is a tad absurd.

The proliferation of fake news, though it may at times induce a chuckle, is no laughing matter. It has real consequences. Imagine the taxpayer dollars that could have been wasted designing a law that wasn’t needed.

Fake news has the power to sway public opinion — to instill fear or cause an outrage.

Coler owns a company called Disinfomedia. He — and a team of 20-25 writers — create fake news and produce a profit off the advertising the sites make, according to the NPR piece.

Fake news isn’t exactly anything new. But with the advent of social media, it spreads like wildfire, and Coler maintains that his intention is to show how easily fake news spreads.

Thankfully, enough attention was drawn to the issue that Facebook, Twitter and Google have all started cracking down on fake news.

But, we shouldn’t leave it all to them. Do your part, too. Fact check stories before you share them. Consider the source they’re originating from. Is the story being reported by more than one source?

The Washington Post offers these tips:

• Determine whether the article is from a legitimate website

• Check the “contact us” page

• Examine the byline of the reporter and see whether it makes sense

• Read the article closely

• Scrutinize the sources

• Look at the ads

• Use search engines to double-check

Mining Journal (Marquette)