The good rules against hoaxes

Steno Sari

by Steno Sari — A few weeks ago I talked about fake news, starting the article with a quote from George Orwell on the courage of truth. Even today I would like to ask Orwell for help in resuming the talk left pending: "True freedom of the press is telling people what people don't want to hear." In other words, a journalist must know how to go against the tide if necessary. And it's not exactly easy. In fact, public opinion tends to read and listen only to what it likes: it says it hates homologation, but then it queues up, because homologation frees you from the effort of thinking independently. And so we fall into the trap of clichés and the variegated and pernicious world of prejudices. It is precisely in this wide sea that millions of fake news navigates almost undisturbed and, even worse, the fascinating and evil post-truth that feeds on these fake news.

How to defend yourself from this monster? How to preserve the autonomy of our thinking? Governments, large publishing groups, search engines and social media are mobilizing their resources in search of effective remedies.  But the results for now are mediocre. An antidote that works, however, is already there but it's up to us to use it. After reading or hearing a seemingly "appetizing" (or "stomach-turning ") piece of news, we need to apply these eight basic rules: 1) consider the source, 2) verify the author, 3) verify the date, 4) verify our preconceptions, 5) investigate, 6) look for supporting sources, 7) ask yourself: "too extravagant to be true?", 8) consult the experts.

In the previous article I gave the example of the report of the USCIRF, an independent commission of the United States that denounced the phenomenon of "anti-cult movements. "engaged in a disinformation war against religious minorities.  The report indicated that fake news spread by these movements led the Russian government to unleash a persecution of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia. This made me reflect on how dangerous and nefarious fake news can be and on how precious are the  journalists willing to go against the stream to fight them. I wondered why in Italy there are so few denounces on the persecution like that of the Witnesses (already victims, together with Jews and other minorities, of Nazi-fascism). Could it be because many of us are also unwittingly victims of prejudices and fake news against some minorities? So let's try to apply these 8 rules.  When we hear bad news about a minority, whatever it is, don’t be dupe. Let's verify. Of course, this takes time and patience. But if we want to defend "the truth" and save "the truth" we have to roll up our sleeves. It is also a way to save our reputation.

Article appeared on Libero on  September 21, 2020 and republished here with the permission of the author