Chris Crowder: Research your news feeds

Monday, January 30, 2017 - 2:45pm

Wait, President Donald Trump didn’t just use a quote from "Bee Movie" in his inauguration speech, did he? Barry B. Benson, one of the bees in the Bee Movie, and the president’s images were side by side with a supposed “Bee Movie” quote below: “We are one colony — and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one hive, and one glorious destiny.” It looked like Trump just replaced the word “colony” with “nation” and “hive” with “home.” No, this was a complete hoax.

Around the same time, there was an uproar of a dog being put in rushing water on the set of the film, “A Dog’s Purpose.” The dog was seen being put in the water by a trainer, and it looked like the dog was uncomfortable. Later, we see the dog swimming in the water. But it turns out that the clips were cut and from two totally different time periods. The video was shot over a year ago and is just now (right before the movie’s premiere) being brought into the spotlight. Claims of animal cruelty were deemed false because the trainer was just trying to acclimate the dog to the water, and the trainer didn’t put him in the water that day. The clip of the dog in the water was from later during the filming when the dog was actually comfortable.

Many people shared these two “stories” before the truth came out and believed them as real. It isn’t their own fault. Many journalists and other people want to get their two cents in first, without digging in a little deeper to see if they’re actually facts. In some news cycles, there’s more emphasis on having the scoop instead of getting it completely right. I almost fell for them myself, but did a little more research because I’ve been bamboozled before.

The overwhelming presence of fake news in our society is destroying the reputability and the prestige of the journalism profession. For example, Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, can claim that Trump’s inauguration was the most watched in person and on television, when the most viewed in person title belongs to former President Barack Obama and the most television viewers belongs again to Obama, shortly followed by former President Ronald Reagan. Yes, Reagan didn’t have streaming sites like Facebook and YouTube, but the numbers for Trump’s statistics on those sites haven’t even been released in full yet. How can you make such a claim by ballparking and without concrete data?

Both sides of the political spectrum can take a hit when the opposing side takes a claim from someone in power as truth when it’s really an “alternative fact.” It’s disheartening and downright infuriating because some people aren’t willing to do the research, and even if they did, might not be persuaded to think differently once they saw the truth. Both members of the left and right can be guilty of this, and it’s damaging to social and political progress.

When fake news or false reports accuse someone like Trump, it just gives him and everyone on his side more fuel power. Seriously, what were people going to think when Buzzfeed released an exposé about Trump’s alleged long-time ties to Russia when the intel isn’t even confirmed? Trump and Tomi Lahren, a conservative political commentator, will rightfully exclaim that the news is fake (even though they have said this about accurate stories as well). Those claims are true because it just isn’t right to make a false claim. Doing that lessens the power of the actual truth. Whomever is accused can deem it to be fake, and most who have their back will blindly follow their lead.

The integrity of news is at stake. There are so many sites at our disposal that sometimes it’s difficult to separate fact from fiction. I believe publications such as Vox and The New York Times do an excellent job of thoughtful and in-depth reporting, but it takes one site and one wrong story going big to lower the trustworthiness of a legitimate story in someone’s eyes. 

As citizens of the United States, with freedom of the press as an amendment in our Constitution, we deserve nothing but honest news. And we have a responsibility to do extra research on whatever stories we read, especially when they involve an arena as important as politics. It’s tougher now to determine when stories are true from looking at just one source (especially if it doesn’t have a history for being reputable). Do your research thoroughly and inform others if they don’t have their facts straight. Read more than the headline. Everything is not what it seems.

Chris Crowder can be reached at ccrowd@umich.edu.