Don’t let yourself be fooled

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Andy Sauer

Andy Sauer

I want to reassure you in time of doubt, suspicion and dread. What you are reading is real. The Suffield Observer is not fake news.

Now, you may question the newsworthiness of a number of articles, opinions or photographs of Suffieldians in far-flung regions of the world, but I can guarantee you it’s real.

I mention this because last weekend I ran into a Suffield acquaintance lamenting the national outbreak of fake news.

I responded that there are two parties in the consumption of false information: Those that create it and those that believe it.

Now, I cannot begin to unravel the malevolent psychosis that compels an individual to engineer lies masquerading as facts, but I can tell you why some people fall prey to it. It’s called confirmation bias. It’s the tendency of people to favor, interpret or even seek out information that confirms their existing beliefs or fears. It’s really nothing new. It’s been happening since the dawn of humanity and is responsible for everything from superstitions to conspiracy theories.

For example, there are those who believe that a full moon possesses some effect on human behavior. When something strange happens, they think it must be a full moon. If there’s a full moon, superstition confirmed. If not, the incident, or at least that particular phase of the moon, is forgotten.

I have a very religious family member who, whenever there is a piece of tragic news, says, “Oh, it’s the End Times.” I’ve been hearing this for 20 years, and I always wonder when will be the end of the ‘End Times’? And, of course, whenever there’s good news there’s never a note of celebration of, “Oh, it’s the Beginning Times.”

Misinformation exploits fears and hunches, and with the tangled flow of information that the internet enables, it runs wild. It even snags prominent media outlets that in their lust for “breaking news” violate some of their longtime rules and get it wrong. When I was a reporter almost 30 years ago, I had an editor who’d say, “Check it out, check it out; if your mother says she loves you, check it out.” It was better to get the story right than it was to be first.

If you want to do something about fake news, don’t believe everything you hear, see or read. Don’t forward inflammatory information on the social media platforms. Apply a healthy dose of skepticism to anything that sets you off, because the story might change a day later and you just might have it all wrong.

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