Alternative Facts

The advent of citizen journalists documenting news as it happens was supposed to usher in a new era of transparency and truth. Aliens land in Roswell? Somebody whips out a cell phone, and cover-up becomes an undoable thing. Yay, score one for our little green friends (who are, in fact, still being illegally detained somewhere in a desert, just because they had the poor timing to arrive before we discovered social media).

Alas, that triumph of transparency is a double-edged sword. As we’re now learning, transparency into truth also leads to transparency into not-so-true stuff, theories (eg, this column) and outright delusion. Without filters, without verification, any crazy person (see, Dude in Oval Office) can just say stuff, and if enough other people repeat it often enough, or even the originator just social-shouts it loudly enough, no one knows where the truth lies.

We see the effect constantly in modern journalism – the same exact website, with the same exact wording, gets quoted by a dozen different “media” sources, most of whom didn’t have time to fact check it. Suddenly, the “phone on the street” has read it in a dozen different places – so it must be right.

In Science (with a capital S) they developed a “method” – you might have heard of it. Things are tested, and once tested enough using consistent standards, the community arrives at a consensus. I won’t say popularity, stature and alliteration don’t affect scientific inquiry – and don’t get me started on preconceptions – but by and large, there’s a METHOD for resolving what actually happens. No matter how badly you want the sun to revolve around the Earth, eventually, enough proof to the contrary will derail you.

What does the new news / fake news / news-like era, where the Onion and “The Daily Show” have become some of the most reliable news sources in our fair land, need? We need our own “method.” Standards conventionally adhered to, so that the dope sitting there, like the one texting at a green traffic light in front of me as I write this, will know how much truthiness a given word-nugget actually contains – like a fact nutrition label.

The Alt Facts team challenges Steven Colbert, Bill Nye or anyone who cares, to come up with a Journalistic Method. Meanwhile, what do you think it should be? Shoot your suggestions to @MotifMag. (but only if the light in front of you is red).

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