If you pay any attention to the news, you’re probably sick and tired of hearing the phrase, “fake news.” It seems as though every time you turn around, someone is accusing someone else of reporting fake news. Wikipedia.com defines “fake news” as “false news stories, often of a sensational nature, created to be widely shared or distributed for the purpose of generating revenue, or promoting or discrediting a public figure, political movement, company, etc.”
The primary reason individuals and companies create and publish fake news is so they can deliberately mislead, misinform, and deceive readers.
Before the invention and widespread use of the internet, news stories were published by the print media, such as newspapers and magazines, and were also disseminated through the TV and the radio. Before the internet, organizations that were publishing news stories had certain standards that had to be followed before a story could be published. An example of one standard was that there had to be at least two verified sources who had direct knowledge of what was reported in the story.
In addition to requiring reporters to adhere to certain standards, news organizations had a requirement that before a story could be published, it had to be reviewed and approved by an editor who verified that company standards had been followed and that there was nothing in the story that was inappropriate. It was not uncommon for an editor to send a story back to the person who wrote it with instructions to gather additional facts or to obtain additional sources before the story could be published.
Today, most people get their news from internet websites and social media sites. Most of the so-called news stories that are on those sites are written by individuals who are not required to follow the old news reporting standards, and they are not required to have their stories approved by an editor.
The proliferation of fake news has gotten so bad that most of what you see on TV and YouTube, hear on the radio and podcasts, and read on Facebook, Twitter, and other websites, has not been properly sourced or independently verified.
You may have heard the expression “caveat emptor,” which is a Latin phrase that means, “Let the buyer beware.” The meaning behind the phrase is that when people buy goods, they need to understand that they are accepting the goods as they are at the moment of purchase, regardless of any known or unknown defects. To get around the problems that arise with caveat emptor, in the U.S., there are certain laws in place that prohibit fraud in the sale of goods and that also impose on the seller of goods a warranty that the goods are fit for the particular use in which they are intended.
In today’s day and age, we need to come up with a new phrase that is similar to the let the buyer beware phrase. The new phrase needs to be, “Let the reader and viewer beware.” What this phrase means is that from now on, you should always question and doubt all news stories, articles, videos, TV shows, and anything else that you see and hear because there is a strong likelihood that what you are seeing and hearing was created to deliberately mislead, misinform, and deceive you.
Not only do we need to be extremely skeptical and cautious about whether we should believe what we read and see, we also need to be very careful about believing and trusting people with whom we have not had a long-term relationship. They have the same motivation to mislead and deceive us as the people who write and publish fake news stories.
In addition to the fake news issue, there’s another recent phenomenon that has been occurring that is referred to as “virtue signaling.” Dictionary.com defines virtue signaling as “The sharing of one’s point of view on a social or political issue, often on social media, in order to garner praise or acknowledgment of one’s righteousness from others who share that point of view, or to passively rebuke those who do not [share that point of view].”
According to the Oxford Dictionary, virtue signaling is “the action or practice of publicly expressing opinion or sentiments intended to demonstrate one’s good character or the moral correctness of one’s position on a particular issue.”
People who engage in virtue signaling usually do so in order to imply that they are superior to others, and to raise their stature among their friends, community, or nation, without having to actually engage in virtuous behavior.
Here are some examples of virtue signaling:
● We see it all the time. A celebrity or a politician posts a message on Facebook, Twitter, or on another social media site that their thoughts and prayers are with people who have suffered from a tragedy. If they have not actually prayed or taken any action that is helpful to the victims of the tragedy, they are guilty of virtue signaling. Some examples of the type of action I’m referring to are (1) actually stopping what they’re doing and taking the time to pray to Almighty God for the victims of the tragedy, (2) contributing money to an organization that is actually assisting the victims of the tragedy, (3) going to the scene of the tragedy to help out, or (4) offering other services or resources that will ease the suffering of the victims. By only posting words that appear to offer support, the person who has posted the words has declared to the world that he or she is a decent and loving person who really cares about the people who are suffering.
● In 2015, Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, posted the following comment on his Facebook page: “If you’re a Muslim in this community, as the leader of Facebook I want you to know that you are always welcome here and that we will fight to protect your rights and create a peaceful and safe environment for you.” While Zuckerberg demonstrated for others his apparent good character and moral correctness, there was no indication that he had ever taken any real action to financially support or come to the aid of Muslims who were being persecuted. All he did was to simply comment on an issue that was in the news at the time, so that he would appear to the public to be a righteous and virtuous person and would receive praise for his perceived heroic gesture.
● Earlier this year, at a family function that I attended, I had a conversation with a relative who had recently graduated from college. During our conversation, he commented that if our country didn’t take immediate, aggressive action to address the climate change problem, that within 12 years, we would be wiped out. What he said was the same exact thing that a U.S. House of Representatives member, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, had said a couple of months earlier. I asked him if he thought that Ocasio-Cortez knew what she was talking about, and he said, “Yeah, she’s a millennial just like me and she knows what she’s talking about.” When I asked him to define climate change, he changed the subject. I asked him a second time to define climate change and he changed the subject again. The third time I asked him he got defensive and started attacking President Trump and the republicans. He then lectured me about how he and I were from different generations and he didn’t expect me to understand what he was talking about. By bringing up the topic of climate change, he was attempting to demonstrate to me his moral correctness on a current political issue; however, other than offering an opinion, he had not engaged in any action or contributed any of his own money to eradicate a condition that he thought was going to wipe out the world in 12 years.
With the recent explosion of fake news and virtue signaling, we have unfortunately arrived at the point where the truth really doesn’t matter anymore. What matters most to many of the people in our country is that they stand up for and say the things that will make them appear to be righteous and virtuous, and will further make them appear to possess good character, even though they don’t spend any of their own time or money to correct the things that they’re complaining about.
We now live in a world where many of the people we come into contact with lack virtue. They say and do whatever they can to show the world that they are virtuous. Truly virtuous people keep their virtues to themselves, while they engage in virtuous behavior by taking action to help others in significant ways.
Most importantly, truly virtuous people make a conscious effort to continuously practice the most critical virtue of all: Humility. In doing so, they do not announce to other people or to the world what they have done for others. They simply help others without telling anyone. If someone happens to notice and comment on their virtuous behavior, they act as though it’s no big deal and give credit to God for blessing them with the abilities, talents, skills, and resources to help others.
Keep all this in mind while you navigate through the ever-increasing fake news and virtue signaling that is being thrown at you every day.