18 December 2016

Inbox: How do you protect yourself from Fake News?

or: How to respond to the Fake News hysteria and protect yourself from being brainwashed by the Establishment or manipulated by activists or those with other than truth-seeking agendas?

I hope to offer some practical points. I'm not going to shroud this discussion in the facade of so-called Christian Worldview which all too often promotes false understandings of both the news and history.

The explosion of Social Media and the ever expanding role of the Internet and Smartphones have changed the nature of news and information. Some have fully embraced it and figures like the charlatan Alex Jones are living in a golden age dream. Others are starting to react and have become very suspicious of anything that's not coming from an officially sanctioned and respected media source.

On the extremes you have some that will only trust the mainstream. I know many folks who are of this mind.

And there are others who never trust the mainstream, not a word of it.

Both of these positions are flawed.

As I mentioned in a previous piece, fact-checkers are of limited value. They're great when it comes to debunking rumours, but sometimes terrible when it comes to issues that either don't fit their presuppositions in terms of the social consensus or with regard to science... basically in terms of their metaphysics and/or their conceptions of naturalism. These fact checkers are also reticent to seriously challenge issues that question Establishment media narratives. They're safe and mainstream, in full accord with the Establishment's grip on the sanctioned academy and in the centres of power.

While America is sometimes criticised in the academy, much to the ire of the Right, nevertheless students come out largely believing in the system and its reformability. The sort of systemic anti-Establishment movements of the 1960s no longer exist or if they do, have next to no impact. Much more could be said about the role of the Right in today's context. Even the majority of 'dissidents' are actually still operating within the circle of social consensus.

In many cases, the mainstream and academic narratives are fine and will reflect the facts. In other cases it is a sure guide to misrepresentation. And regardless everything must be interpreted and put into its context. I wouldn't trust a 'Fact Checker' to do that for me.

In other words, when a story gets passed around about toilets eating people or that Dick Cheney is actually a woman, then the Snopes-type websites are pretty good at straightening out the 'facts'.

When it comes to questions of religion, they're usually awful.

When it comes to questions that challenge official narratives regarding US foreign policy, the CIA or dealing with inquiries that challenge the US-bias in the media, they're more or less worthless.

You can look at alternative and foreign media and you can also read, watch and listen to Mainstream Media, but you need to understand at all times what it is you are consuming.

Understand where they're coming from and identify their overt as well as likely biases.

Oftentimes the Liberal-Conservative news divide breaks down. There's a degree of truth to it but at the same time there are many points of consensus and while FOX and MSNBC may seem to be odds and presenting opposite views, in fact they're both presenting the issue from within the US consensus. Though they might be on opposite sides within that spectrum, their coverage won't even entertain views outside that field of consideration.

RT's coverage is not friendly to US interests. That said, there's a lot of good reporting on RT. Is it supported by Moscow? Of course.

Understand what you're watching. I'm not going to trust RT's reporting on Russia or even their rebuttals of the US charges of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. I already know what they're going to say. I will look elsewhere for the answer and if the answer overlaps with RT's coverage... so what?

RT has become an outlet for US dissidents, Right, Left and Libertarian. And for that reason it can sometimes be interesting and quite useful.

Al Jazeera has its own biases. I don't appreciate their coverage on many issues, in particular the Syrian War. That said, they are excellent when it comes to other issues and for providing a non-Western perspective.

France 24, EuroNews, DW, AFP and a host of European newspapers are great for general news. You're not going to get the deep stories from these outlets... at least not on issues pertaining to NATO and US/EU interests. That said, some like Der Spiegel can offer up some pretty good pieces of investigatory journalism.

NPR is not nearly as good as it used to be but along with the BBC is good for general information. It's a starting point. NPR has become a lot fluffier in their coverage and the BBC comes across as self-satisfied, patronising and agenda driven.

Democracy Now is helpful within a certain range of consideration. Beyond that, I find them to be very frustrating and sometimes all but worthless. If they're reporting on US corporations or the FBI, they often have good guests and the show is helpful. But as of late they seem to be swamped in the mire of identity politics and Left-wing political correctness. It's a fake news, but of a different kind.

How do you go deeper? How do you wade through it all and get to the real story?

In all honesty I would say at this point it depends on your level of seriousness and commitment. If you're serious about this, it takes time and that's not something everyone has. If I had to work a regular job in a workplace I wouldn't have the time for media consumption. My job enables me to control my environment and I am able to listen to a lot of material throughout the day.

You have to read a lot and that takes a tremendous amount of time and energy and thus commitment.

And this must be balanced with your other commitments.

For someone like me who works full time and has a family, this means using my time in a deliberate manner, including a determination to get up early and often stay up late. There are never enough hours in the day and most of the time I'm frustrated by how long it will take (at times) to get back to something I was working on.

As a Christian this all has to be put into perspective and balance. Bible reading and Christian study comes first.

For me, I try to integrate all of it. As I'm reading about Neo-Fascism I'm thinking about Christianity, Church History, Providence and a host of other issues. For most, this means reading history and partaking of news through a Right-wing lens. That's not at all what I'm talking about.

I'm studying Scripture on my own and working through books of the Bible with my kids. My wife and I homeschool and in addition to everything else, I teach a portion of their history class. We use a lot of different resources and sometimes I'm listening to something on the way home that I will utilise in their before (or after) dinner lesson time.

There's not a lot of free time in my life. Even recreation is mostly oriented toward some kind of usefulness or something worthy of consideration. I'll watch a Jason Bourne movie for entertainment because there are issues in the movie that stimulate me. I don't waste my time watching superhero movies. If I do watch a comedy it's probably something old and more an exercise in nostalgia. I don't like most of the new movies anyway.

You have to pull from multiple sources, even ones you don't like on occasion. In the car I will listen to Beck, Limbaugh and Hannity. Not regularly mind you. That would be too awful. But I do flip them on, listen for 20 minutes or so, just to see what they're talking about. Sometimes I will hear something I want to pursue. Sometimes I'll call their gold and survivalist commercial phone numbers, just for information. It's surprising how shady some of these organisations are. I call, email and send away for things. You can learn a lot that way.

I will read books I don't like, just to be challenged. It can be frustrating and sometimes I don't finish them all the way.

If you're really serious about understanding the news I will repeat what I have often said. You must read history.

If you think that events that took place hundreds of years ago don't matter today, then you are mistaken. I will grant that perhaps the issues of 15th century France are not as pertinent but they help you understand what was happening in 18th and 19th century France which are essential to understanding what's happening there today. That is but one example.

History doesn't go away. The Cold War was in some ways an anomalous suspension of normal historical forces and even that was in a limited sense. Since the end of that period, history has been rearing its head and seems more pertinent than ever before in my lifetime or even the lifetime of my parent's generation.

Familiarity with these questions definitely helps one to understand what is happening and why and will quickly reveal bias in media coverage.

A knowledge of history will send up many red flags as you partake of news reporting.

History drives you to learn about other topics such as philosophy, geography, economics and the arts.

If you're really serious then take notes and not with some silly nonsense digital toy. Tapping little boxes and typing little bits of data and squibs doesn't help you learn nor is it very accessible.

Write down your notes with a pen and paper. It helps you learn and it imprints the ideas in your memory. You can find your notes again because your mind remembers where it sat on the page and helps with recall. I use 5x7 notepad pages, write the title of the book at the top of each page, write the page number on the side of each note, number the pages and keep them tucked into the book for future reference... my own personalised index system.

Some books will have a few pages of notes, others might end up with 15-20 pages. When I read I always have paper and pen in hand. I read at a desk, and if not I use a small clipboard and I also have a lap desk I use if I'm sitting on the couch.

This isn't for everyone but certainly everyone can spend a little more time engaged in profitable activities... I'm not speaking about financial profit... and less time watching worthless stuff on a screen or playing with the latest tech gadget.

When considering an online news source...

Always spend a few minutes looking into a news website, not just their 'about' page, but who are they?

That said if you go ahead and read a few pieces you are given some indication as to where they're coming from.

So who am I, someone has asked? I'm not terribly transparent which is a stumbling block for some. Is this site an outlet for fake news?

This isn't a news site per se. If you want to know more about me, then email me and ask. Frankly there isn't much to tell. As I've often said, I'm quite literally nobody, no one of any consequence or standing. I am a Christian who writes about what interests me. I'm not in it for the money and I don't promote my websites. I also write fiction (short stories and novels) and even some poetry but thus far I haven't published anything. If I get around to it, then yes, I'll try to generate some money from that if I can.

Read history and if you want a larger perspective work on a deep understanding of the Bible with regard to questions of eschatology. I'm not talking about Dispensational timelines and chronologies. Far from it. I'm speaking of themes regarding beasts, false prophets, wars of the spirit realm and the nature of God's Kingdom in This Age. It certainly makes history come alive... though the kind of certainty and absolute knowledge a lot of people seek will prove elusive.


  1. The sad thing is, probably a good 80% of Americans tune out when they hear: "This takes time and practice". We think that that's normal for sports or talent, but when it comes to intellectual issues, no thanks. I'll take my sound clip and my gut-instinct. Theologically, this is the same as well. I don't like the New Englander Puritans for a lot of reasons, but one thing they understood was that mortification of the flesh (among other things) is something actively pursued, not merely a state.

    If Christians don't understand the process of sanctification/theosis/growth etc. then how can we hope to promote a view of careful consideration when it comes to news? I struggle with this question a lot when it comes to trying to have a conversation about these sorts of things. Sometimes non-Christians deal with this better than Evangelicals who always seem to be a couple steps behind social trends (chasing after them, of course), namely a general awareness in mainstream magazines like the Atlantic that something's wrong.

    Which is the Brave New World irony of it all: we're simultaneously the most educated and stupidest people. Yet the typical Conservative criticism of the Ivory Tower is completely false. It's not that all this book learning makes you dumb and deaf to reality, but because how academia functions is many times not much better than the carbon-copy ideological institutions like Patrick Henry College and many world-viewite Christian "colleges". I live in the world of academia and I'm constantly amazed at how little some people understand even as they are specialists. In someways, even the humanities and social sciences seem like technical professions.

    What this has convinced me of, mostly, is that rationality is neither not inconsequential nor inherent in Humanity. A healed and restored life of the mind is something fought for and maintained. This is a part of the life in Christ, where the intellect is neither abolished nor already perfected, but something healed through Christ's assumption of Human nature.

    my 2 cents,

  2. Preach it brother. Amen

    Question: Are you flirting with Constantinople? Just curious.

    1. Yes, but it's a complicated dance. It has mostly to do with doctrine of God, ecclesiology, and Christian praxis. I find a lot of English language material on Orthodoxy is unhelpful, even by some Orthodox. When I began to understand Maximus the Confessor, it was like the Bible came alive again and the rock-and-hard place I kept ending up began to vanish.