There is no place like Facebook to find lessons in how to navigate a world where “truthiness” abounds. Tonight’s suspicious share revealed that it was the Syrian rebels, armed by Saudi Arabia, that were responsible for the gas attacks. The link went to the MintPress News website and two reporters were listed as the writers: Dale Gavlak and Yahya Ababneh. The article starts with the caveat that Gavlak was not on the ground in Syria but worked with Ababneh who did the interviews. We further learn that Gavlak is a writer for Mint Press who has freelanced for the Associated Press.
From there, the story has been picked up by other “news” sites including antiwar.com, inforwars.com, and Voice of Russia. No mainstream news outlets have reported the story. By the time it has made the rounds, Dale Gavlak is identified as “associated press reporter” and the reader has to scroll way down to find out that Gavlak has done some consulting for the AP but was not writing this article for the AP. In another version of the story, MintPress is now part of the Associated Press:
Gavlak is a Middle Eastern journalist who filed the report about the rebels claiming responsibility on the Mint Press News website, which is affiliated with AP.
Truthiness continues when identifying other sources:
Doctors who treated the chemical weapons attack victims cautioned interviewers to be careful about asking questions regarding who, exactly, was responsible for the deadly assault.
The humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders added that health workers aiding 3,600 patients also reported experiencing similar symptoms, including frothing at the mouth, respiratory distress, convulsions and blurry vision. The group has not been able to independently verify the information.
The implication is that Doctors Without Borders is making the caution. Thus, a link to a well respected organization. Here’s the press release with no mention of cautioning interviewers.
A Google search shows this article as part of the “news” section at the top of the page with a link to the MintPress News website. It is the only version of the story, which should be a heads up to readers. It might also be telling that the Daily Kos deleted the article.
There is, of course, the possibility that the story is true and the mainstream news is simply taking the time to vet it before reporting. However, knowing their propensity for beating others to the punch, I would imagine that at least one of them would have hinted at it by now.
With more and more people getting their news from outlets like Facebook, the possibility for spreading truthiness grows. As Julie Andrews comments on the Unofficial Facebook Blog:
People are getting more breaking news than ever, sometimes as it happens, thanks to rapid-fire social networks such as Facebook. Often, such reporting is produced (or, uh, posted) by unofficial news sources (the reality is that anyone can report a sighting, an event, a comment heard), as the distinction between what is, and what is not news, grays.
I disagree when she suggests that this isn’t a death knell for the news:
To be clear, it’s not the news that is dying here — it’s the method in which news is delivered and received. Knowledge is and will forever be power. We just may not need to tune in to have someone read it to us much longer, no matter how fabulous their voice and hair are.
Knowledge only comes to those who can apply critical thinking to the news that gets posted by friends and families. If all you do is read the headline posted by your favorite uncle and then click like or share, you are becoming part of that gray area. Somewhere, Walter Cronkite is weeping.