by Michael Boyink / firstname.lastname@example.org
So claimed an email I recently received.
As you might expect, as a newspaper editor I read a lot of news. I’m also a naturally skeptical Gen-Xer.
In order to reveal something, it has to first be hidden.
For aspects of something as big as the coronavirus to have hidden aspects, it would take a conspiracy.
And I’m not too keen on conspiracy theories.
In addition to being a skeptical GenX newspaper editor, I also have a lot of experience with the internet. I had my first email address in 1992. I started building websites in 1996. I signed up for eBay in 1999. I’ve used email list-serves, discussion forums, and more now-defunct social media tools than I care to remember.
All to say, when I get sent a link like this, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to see if it’s something I want to invest a half-hour of my time in.
With a YouTube video, the first thing I do is scan the comments to get a sense for the general response to the video. If a large percentage of the comments are negative, questioning, or refuting the claims in the video, that’s a pretty good strike against it.
But there isn’t always wisdom in a crowd. On this particular video, the majority of the comments were favorable.
But I wasn’t convinced.
The next tool in my research arsenal is to grab the YouTube channel name and search it on Google.
In this case, it paid off. The channel was directly mentioned in FastCompany and Forbes articles about fake news sources.
I responded to the email sender and told them about my results. I recommended they not trust that YouTube channel as a source for credible news.
They persisted, saying the doctor that the video featured had also appeared on several other channels. Maybe those channels were more credible?
I was doubtful. If I were a doctor getting coronavirus-related interview requests I’d make sure it was a source I wanted to be interviewed by.
I grabbed the doctor’s name and Google-searched him.
His name came up in a story posted on a television news website. They had investigated him for selling pills that he claimed cured both cancer and autism. The story led to him being censured by the medical board of his home state.
Questionable source, interviewed on a questionable YouTube channel?
An easy win.
The battles are getting harder. Artificial intelligence can write a credible story. Deepfake technology is making it possible to create a video of anyone you want to say anything you want. Social media tools like Facebook make it easy for a lot of stories from different sources to get thrown into our paths.
But we must remain vigilant in our fight to find the truth.
Before reposting, before sharing, before letting an article or online video shape your opinion on something, do some due diligence and research the source.
As an aside, I’m considering putting together a class on how to spot so-called fake news.
Let me know if such a class would be of interest to you or your organization.