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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

FELDSTED -- We should be protected by journalistic integrity, but it has left the building ... and there is no way to police the internet

CBC's chat bot helps you spot 'fake news'
     
This piece arrived in my mailbox this morning, and started my day with a long, loud laugh. There is some irony in having the dean of political bias, innuendo and opinion masquerading as news creating a program (bot) to ferret out ‘fake news’.
     

You cannot replace journalistic integrity with a computer program. Balanced and fair reporting of events is difficult. Fact-checking is time consuming and has been largely ignored in our 7/24 news cycle where getting the story out first is more important than getting the story right.
     
“Breaking news” is always suspect, no matter what the source. It is first impressions news, unchecked and unverified. Within hours, breaking news stories are updated to correct obvious errors. If you are reading news on-line, check the story date and you will often see an initial date followed by an updated date. In some cases, new information comes to light and the original story is replaced with a new headline. The story is basically the same but now includes the new information.
     

If you only read and possibly passed on the original breaking news story, within days, you can find that your information is incomplete and has inaccuracies.
     
E-mail has developed into an electronic version of a back-fence community gossip vehicle. I get a lot of e-mail due to my writing. Mail recipients send me items of interest for possible publication. In the flurry are messages I have checked and found to be dishonest. I will get two or three of these in a short period and then a month or two later get another batch of the same e-mail content.
     
People receive an e-mail, usually forwarded to them by a friend, find the content interesting and pass it on to their friends which occasionally include me. One of my rules that I do my best to keep is to seek verification before publishing.

I want a second source to verify content. I often turn to “Snopes”, which has a catalogue of e-mails being circulated and an indication of whether they are real or fakes. If there is nothing on Snopes, I use search engines to seek news on key phrases in the e-mail. If that proves unsuccessful, I can safely ignore the content as bogus.
     
Our best defence against fraudulent news is a suspicious mind and common sense. Is the content of this story plausible?

One of my favourite fake news e-mails is about our government deciding to issue Canada Pension cheques as “benefits” which got many people hot and bothered as they have paid into the Canada Pension Plan for decades and payments are not government “benefits”. It turns out that the e-mail originated in the United States.

Some clown decided to adapt it to Canada and sent it out to his or her friends, who sent it out to their friends without anyone checking to see if the information was valid. In Canada, Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement are paid out of the general revenues of the federal government and are true government benefits, but Canada Pension, which requires premium payments from employees and employers by law, is not.
     
We are inundated with news – far more news content than we can be reasonably expected to deal with. We should be protected by journalistic integrity, but it has left the building ... and there is no way to police the internet. Anyone can create a web page or e-mail materials that are plain trash.

I recall reading a story on global warming by a university professor, who was now retired and living in Canada, that looked suspicious. I tracked him down and found that he is still with a mid-western US university, and had no idea that he had allegedly published a paper on global warming.
     
Skeptic that I am, I will not employ the “chat bot”. I prefer to trust my instincts and common sense.


The Way I See It ~~ John Feldsted
Political Commentator, Consultant & Strategist
Winnipeg, Manitoba

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