A Critical Squint: Judging That Thing Your Friend Just Shared

A lot of recent talk around ‘fake news’ focuses on blatant lying and overtly partisan bullshit. Those sites are usually grossly apparent to people with brains, so I’d like to look at a different sort of example – plain old junk news. This is a mediocre flavor of fake news — pseudo-news sites swiping content and adding a little commentary. I thought I’d do a little case study on a link that recently popped up in my Facebook newsfeed.

Link: The Free Thought Project … open ‘er up.

Headline: 20 million Muslims march against ISIS in Iraq, mainstream media completely ignores it (later updated to Millions of Muslims March Against ISIS During Pilgrimage and Mainstream Media Completely Ignores It)

Content: Thank god this indie plucky journalist is on the case! Expose the hypocrisy of MSM! But, wait. Their only source? The Independent. You know, mainstream media. The same mainstream media, by the way, that the author touts as evidence of his own legitimacy (bio: “…has been featured on mainstream networks around the world”). His only other source? Another Free Thought Project article. Nice job.

Also note the Independent’s headline – Millions of Muslims take part in mass pilgrimage of Arbaeen – in spite of Isis – as compared to TFTP’s. Against and in spite of are quite different, huh. And the TFTP author has just stated that 20 million people are doing a thing which they are not actually doing. Oh, also that 20 million figure? That’s the high end of an estimate by a city councilor, which the Independent mentioned in a quote but wisely decided wasn’t headline-worthy. Maybe they, I don’t know, didn’t want to report a guess as a fact.

Photos:
Arbaeen is a holy day (Look! We’re learning!). It’s a pilgrimage that happens every year. Real media outlets – those with ethics and standards and a photography staff – will only show you photos of the event they’re actually reporting on, or make it clear that you’re looking at an archive photo. Real media outlets credit photographers. This post uses three photos, which I looked up with a Google reverse image search:


This one is a year old and uncredited.


So is this one (Tineye, another reverse lookup, thinks it might actually be two years old).


This photo is watermarked from another site, and is also a year old.

A reverse image search is one of the quickest and easiest ways to discern the quality of a post. See who else has used the photo and why, track down the original post, find the context.

So as far as this example goes, I can confidently dismiss this site. It is not a legitimate news source. It’s a content-copying blog, a dolled-up WordPress template. It looks unprofessional, because it is (Christ, if the name didn’t tip you off, how bout the logo?). They steal content, add a little slant to appeal to whatever bias they’re trying to confirm, do a sloppy Google image search, and shoot their deformed clone baby into the webs (where even shittier sites will copy and paste it in its entirety). This site adds nothing to the discourse, disseminates no new information, adds no insight. It’s not news. It’s not reporting. It’s junk. It’s easy to spot. It’s easy to block. It’s easy to not share.


A handy fact-check-list I made awhile back. If you know someone posting horseshit, you can leave this as a comment!

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