Adkins: Skepticism in an era of Fake News

Fake news has become more prevalent than ever, and it’s up to the readers to determine the truth. (Flickr)

In our modern, technology-obsessed culture, it has become easier than ever to share misinformationone only needs to scroll through any social media newsfeed to see my point. A New York Times article from last month, “How Fiction Becomes Fact on Social Media,” drilled home this point by talking about how misinformation and conspiracies set social media ablaze after the Las Vegas massacre in October.

What happens to a population when we become conditioned to hearing about social media hoaxes and fake news, from Pizzagate to flu vaccines to the “It” clown-led protest? What are the consequences of living in a world in which there are no trusted media sources?

Today, as I was struggling to stay awake in my 8 a.m. Environmental Studies discussion group, one of my classmates shared an incendiary fact: Deady Hall, the first building on our campus, was named after a member of the Ku Klux Klan. We were outraged, although unsurprised, since it seems that every day we find out someone else we thought was okay is actually a jerk, whether it’s Gandhi, Louis CK or Kevin Spacey. We moved on, accepting and integrating the knowledge that Deady Hall was named after a member of one of the worst groups America has seen except that it wasn’t.

An article published by the Oregonian revealed that Deady was not a KKK member that was Frederic Dunn, who had a dormitory named after him on the UO campus (Dunn Hall) until last year, when a university board voted unanimously to remove the name. Matthew Deady, however, was an advocate of slavery rather than a KKK member, and though his politics were racist and disgraceful, I was still misinformed about Deady’s position.

I don’t blame my classmate for getting her facts wrong. But I do blame the rest of my class, and myself, for simply taking her statement at face-value because now my classmates operate under the assumption that the UO’s values would allow a building to be named after a member of one of the worst groups America has ever produced.

Even more so, I blame our culture of unconscious acceptance. It is now commonplace to believe everything we read on the internet, despite the early 2000s-esque warnings we’ve undoubtedly received to never do just that.

It is time we become skeptics, time we learn how to question everything. What would happen if we never believed something before we have verified it for ourselves? This is the only way to defend ourselves against the onslaught of lies that are propagated each day, in the worlds both online and off.

If we don’t do our research and become habitual skeptics – habitual thinkers – we may become complacent, and if the truth becomes buried in misinformation, we will not bother to uncover it. Consider, for example, the repeated omission in our history textbooks of the stories of people of color, the LGBTQ community, women and indigenous nations. So many textbooks give us only a Eurocentric, fractional and false recount of the world. If we do not fight for the truth and chase down our references, then it will become possible for those who want to omit the truth to do so.

It is for these reasons that we must always seek the truth above anything else. We must always ask questions. Holding ourselves to these standards is the essence of survival in our modern world, and we can, as students, ask for nothing less from our professors, our families, our fellow students and above all, ourselves.

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