The Internet, while awesome, is also a mind-boggling marvel of bullshit production and dissemination. A misleading or outright fake news story can get forwarded on Facebook a million times before Snopes.com can even write up their rebuttal (no, oral sex does not prevent breast cancer). Since the rise of social media, we get more and more of our news from each other, and far, far too many of us aren't asking ourselves the important question:
"Is the amazing news I'm about to share even fucking true?"
Because most of the time, we don't need somebody else to debunk these stories for us -- not if we know what to look for. For instance, it should always raise red flags if ...
5It's World-Changing News from Some Obscure Website
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Any Time You See a Headline Like ...
You Should Read It As ...
"Vaccinated Children Five Times More Prone to Disease Than Unvaccinated Children AND ALSO WI-FI IS CAUSING WORMS TO GROW IN YOUR BRAIN" -Hobo talking to his pet rat on the subway
I'm not saying all news has to come from The New York Times or the BBC -- I think I only learned Obama won re-election because Mike Tyson mentioned it on Twitter. But for the love of God, if you're going to forward me a link on Facebook about some earth-shattering piece of health news, I'd better not hover my mouse over the link and see it's from fucking AlienTruthRevealed.blogspot.com. I swear that 95 percent of the misinformation on the Internet could be stopped in its tracks if people would just take a few seconds to look at the source of the amazing headline they just read before hitting the Facebook "share" button.
In the case of that vaccination story above, it came from NaturalNews.com. And, to be fair, it kind of sounds like a legit site. (Isn't there a prestigious scientific journal called Nature? It's probably related to those guys!) It's only when you read down to the bottom that you see that their anti-vaccine study was based on an online poll conducted at a website called VaccineInjury.info. That is, an anti-vaccine blog got their readers to click buttons on a page agreeing that vaccines are terrible (obviously every study ever done disagrees). But how many parents just skimmed and forwarded it along with an accompanying post like "Scary stuff!!!"
"Wait, this is just pain juice. Where's the one for premature death?"
I understand it's not always obvious by just glancing at the URL -- purveyors of bullshit news have figured out how to sneak their product onto domains that also host legit news. For instance, a while back I mentioned a shocking story that ran on Reuters about how fluoride harms brain function, but a closer examination showed that it was just a press release by anti-fluoride wackjobs hosted on a separate part of Reuters' website (with no oversight or fact checking -- you could write one right now and they'd post it).
"Finally, my Legolas erotic love story will see the light of day."
Oh, and do you still recognize Forbes as the highbrow magazine for investor types? Because guess what: Their website now hosts hundreds of unedited blogs from random, often unpaid writers off the street. Seriously, you can write for them if you want. So now any time you see a Forbes.com story and the URL has "sites/(some dude's name here)" in the middle, you're not reading a news story from professional Forbes reporters/editors, you're reading a blog post from some random person. That's why you can see a "Forbes" article claiming that a majority of scientists doubt global warming -- in reality, it's a press release written by a shill for the Heartland Institute, an oil-industry-funded group that ran billboards comparing environmentalists to serial killers.
Remember, there's a lot of money to be made from bullshit -- that traffic pays the same as any, and they're getting very good at tricking us into doing their promotional work for them. And that goes double if ...
4It's From the Fucking Daily Mail (or Another U.K. Tabloid)
Any Time You See a Headline Like ...
"Semen Is 'Good for Women's Health and Helps Fight Depression'" -DailyMail.co.uk
"Woman, 23, Found 'Having Sex With a Pit Bull Terrier'" -TheSun.co.uk
"And the dog was also a terrorist!"
You Should Read It As ...
"Bigfoot Caught Having Sex With Roswell Aliens" -BullshitChonicle.info
I guarantee that everyone reading this has clicked on, and believed, a bullshit Daily Mail story within the last year. Their website has become the most popular news website in the world, largely because of their talent for getting Americans to forward their bullshit to each other.
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"Ha! That guy got a whole child stuck in his asshole. Send that to Tom and tell him he owes me 10 bucks."
The Daily Mail and The Sun are tabloids -- I'm not using the word "bullshit" lightly here. It's a little bit easier to see with The Sun (typical headline: "Aaron, 9, 'Bullied to Death for Being White' -- Family Blames Asian Yobs for Suicide"), but a huge number of Americans don't seem to realize that The Daily Mail is just as bad. They're so much better at hiding it -- go to their front page and they'll have four real stories and then one they just pulled out of their asses. And I mean literally they'll just make up a fictional story, usually about the danger of immigrants/foreigners/Muslims, or salacious sex-related crimes, or the horrors of feminism.
For instance, they ran an outrageous "crazy ex-girlfriend story" with the headline "Dentist Anna Mackowiak Pulls Out Her Ex-Boyfriend's Teeth" (they made sure this happened in Poland, to get the "crazy foreigner" aspect in there). The story went viral and was picked up by Fox News, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The New York Daily News, as well as every fucking news aggregator website on Earth. When somebody finally looked into it and it turned out that none of the people involved actually existed, The Daily Mail said they weren't quite sure where it came from. That is, one of their reporters just ... made it up.
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"Oh, crap, did I forget to put the 'fiction' disclaimer in there? Silly me."
And why not? It's not like it will stop anyone from forwarding the next one. The "swallowing semen fights depression in women" story I mentioned above got repeated so often that England's National Health Service had to issue a statement reminding people that if they're suffering from depression they shouldn't try to just blow their way out of it.
But their real specialty, the fuel that keeps their ad revenue fires burning, is outrage. When a British researcher suggested that autism could be exacerbated by two parents of similar obsessive personality types, The Daily Mail wrote it as "Is the Changing Role of Women in Our Society Behind the Rise in Autism in the Past 30 Years?" When a female scientist wrote a book about how in the future, there might be ways to have children without a sex partner, The Daily Mail's headline was "The Woman Who Wants to Abolish Sex." Other Daily Mail exclusives include "How the BBC Fell for a Marxist Plot to Destroy Civilization from Within" and "Why No Child Is Safe from the Sinister Cult of Emo."
"Sir, the skirt says 'hipster' but the boots say 'goth.' I'm taking the shot just to be on the safe side!"
Don't laugh -- remember, they generate some of the most-forwarded stories on the Internet. Hey, remember that crazy story from a while back with the headline "Saudis Fear There Will Be 'No More Virgins' and People Will Turn Gay if Female Drive Ban Is Lifted"? That was The Daily Mail.
And just by linking to all of these I've fallen into another one of their traps: writing intentionally wrong/dangerous articles to get the traffic from outraged people debunking them. Like "Want to Beat Depression? Do What I Did -- Just Get a Grip!" Or, after Japan's tsunami, they gave us "Why My Wife's POW Grandad Wouldn't Mark a Minute's Silence for the Japanese" (sample quote: "I often wonder what our fathers and grandfathers would have made of modern Britain's ghastly cult of sentimentality and vicarious grief.")
Holy shit, it really makes you want to take to your blog and tell the world why it's bullshit! The Daily Mail is counting on it, in fact.
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"Can you believe this horseshit? Wait until FuckMonster78 hears about this."