To Be Continued: Media Manipulation and Knee-Jerk Reactions

Dear Ones,

Several years ago, a major news network broadcast what they claimed was footage of a violent protest rally in Madison, Wisconsin. The dead giveaway that it was fake was that there were palm trees visible in the background. Recognizing fake news – and fake photos – is getting harder, but we can do it!

We know that great efforts are being made to distort and manipulate our understanding of what’s really happening in the world. I want to offer some cautions about what you read and hear on the internet. If you already know this – great! If you don’t – please read!

First, all social media – Twitter, Facebook, etc. – is all vulnerable to manipulators. It’s not necessarily the angry commenters you need to look out for. Some people employed as “trolls” specialize in posting true, heartwarming, stories to gain followers and lay groundwork for future manipulation. This is a long game, and it’s already being played. Rolling Stone magazine recently published this article explaining how this works.

Then there are the “bots” – artificial intelligence driven text generation and social media chatbots. These target the comments sections of news articles and other online conversations, to drown out any actual debate on the internet.

Learn how to recognize a fake news story.

Learn how to do a Google reverse image search, to determine whether a published photo is real or fake, with tools explained in this article.

It’s really important to choose your sources wisely, and to avoid the “knee jerk” reaction of reading something and immediately sharing it on your own Facebook timeline, or forwarding to friends via any other media.

Rev. Lori Hlaban

(I am grateful to my colleague, The Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford, for sharing these links with a larger group of colleagues.)