Thursday, August 05, 2021

Sniffing out conspiracy on social media

| October 7, 2020 1:00 AM

Election Day is less than a month away, but let's take a minute to look back.

On Sunday, Feb. 17, 2019, the Coeur d’Alene Press published a front-page story and inside editorial about a Denver attorney’s Media Bias Chart.

With many conservative readers, it did not go over well.

The chart rated national news organizations like The AP, The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and as offering a reliable mix of fact reporting and analysis.

Beloved Fox News wasn’t rated as highly, and sources like WND, Breitbart News and INFOWars were dispatched to the slash heap of serious and unreliable extremism.

An avalanche of local letters to the editor excoriating the chart, its creator, Vanessa Otero, and The Press made for lively reading for some time.

Relax: We’re not going to plunge into the latest iteration of the Media Bias Chart — not until some of those scars fade a little more. However, for people of all political persuasions who are fed up with the blatant propaganda and misinformation being passed off as legitimate news reports on social media, from both the right and the left, Otero is offering some help.

“A lot of folks are frustrated about the damaging effect of conspiracy theories that proliferate on social media,” Otero writes. “They are one of the biggest challenges in our current information ecosystem. However, I’m optimistic we can rise to the challenge of elevating our collective ability to spot them and teach others to do the same. It will just take some time, effort, and strategy.”

Here are Otero’s top six red flags that a “news story” is unreliable, disreputable, and embarrassing for you to share on social media.

  1. It explicitly states that it is telling you the truth, and/or that everyone else is lying to you. (“We know the truth!” “This is definitely true!”)
  2. It contains short, conclusory opinion statements. (“It’s all hogwash.”)
  3. It is organized as a list of questions or hypotheses. (“Why wasn’t this…?” “It doesn’t add up that…” “It’s really unlikely that x happened…”)
  4. It puts the burden on YOU to answer the questions. (“If you can’t answer these questions…” “Do you REALLY know what happened?”)
  5. It asks you to prove a negative, which is often impossible. (“No one has proven that the government WASN’T involved!” “They SAY it was X, but how do you know it wasn’t Y?”)
  6. It suggests an insidious plot by “someone” (“the media,” “elites,” “corporations,” “the government”) but doesn’t say exactly what the plot IS or provide any evidence for it. (“No one knows how deep this goes…” “There’s no telling who’s behind all of this…”)

If you’d like to know more, visit her website — — to see a webinar she conducted with the public on this topic.

And if you’ve got an opinion, well, you know where to write.