Where do you get your news? Do you sit down at the kitchen table every morning, and read an actual newspaper? Or do you subscribe to the digital version of The New York Times, The Washington Post, or your local paper? Do you visit the BBC website, or Reuters? If you want to learn about events in another country, where do you go?
If you had been asked about Aleppo, would you have been able to respond any differently than Gary Johnson? Are you aware of the racism and xenophobia in Hungary? Do you know why Britons voted to leave the EU?
Like most Americans, you probably have a number of websites you visit every day. Websites that help you confirm your own bias, and allow you to live in an echo chamber. This echo chamber is not confined to one political view; both the left and the right live in one.
And that echo chamber helped elect Donald Trump. When mainstream liberals are getting their “news” from Addicting Info, Blue Nation Review (now known as Shareblue), Daily News Bin, American News X, and Occupy Democrats, they are not learning anything. They are simply having their biases confirmed. When mainstream conservatives are getting their “news” from Fox, Breitbart, Drudge, and Newsmax, they’re not learning anything, either.
People don’t believe journalists, they believe bloggers, they believe Info Wars, or a misleading meme from US Uncut. They don’t follow Dan Rather on Facebook, they follow Alex Jones, or Lee Camp. That bias, and those echo chambers, are part of the reason Donald Trump is the president-elect.
As someone who qualifies as a blogger, I am not held to the same rigorous standards as a journalist. I adhere to the journalistic code of ethics even so, because I think it’s important to be truthful. But there are many websites and pundits that do not adhere to any code of ethics, because to do so would put a dent in their earnings.
Occupy Democrats has their own file at PolitiFact, as does Sean Hannity. Occupy Democrat’s Alexa global rank is a staggering 4,837, while their rank in the U.S. is 837. Sean Hannity saw his ratings go through the roof in November, enjoying a 65% jump in total viewers.
Neither of these sources are news. Neither of these sources are reliable, and yet, the numbers don’t lie. Occupy Democrats is one of the most visited websites in the world, while Sean Hannity is watched by tens of millions of people. And in both cases, the folks visiting Occupy Democrats, and watching Sean Hannity, are not learning anything. They are simply being given more permission to live in an echo chamber.
When confronted with their role in effectively destroying journalism, many content creators and cable news personalities become defensive. Especially now that a list has been published, naming sites that are fake, misleading, click bait, and/or hyperpartisan. That list was created by Melissa Zimdars, an associate professor of communication, and it is making some people very, very defensive. When he discovered his website, Daily News Bin, was on Zimdars’ list, Bill Palmer served her with a cease and desist. Even though DNB is absolutely hyperpartisan, especially when it came to the presidential election, Palmer was so upset to be on that list, he wrote this on his Facebook page:
Thank you to all of you who notified me of that ridiculous “hit list” of supposed fake-news sites being circulated today by an assistant professor at Merrimack, a list which comically included Daily News Bin. The person who created it was obviously trying to gain internet fame through controversy, which is why I don’t usually bite on these things. In this instance I did cease and desist her because she was trying to use the weight of her university’s name to libel me, and she immediately removed Daily News Bin without reply. I’ve also contacted her department head and asked that corrective action be taken in the form of a public acknowledgement that she published the list without putting in any research on the sites she was libeling.
As the day has gone on, she’s also removed five or six other publications from her list without any explanation – which in and of itself makes clear that her entire list is a sham. Who behaves like this? And this nonsense is being done by an educator? As a proud former public school teacher myself, I’m embarrassed for the profession.
So if you see someone posting that Google Docs list, feel free to point out that the entire list is a publicity stunt being made up and changed around on the fly, by a likely soon-to-be-unemployed assistant professor who sold out for fifteen minutes of internet fame. Even though my publication is no longer on the hit-list, other respected publications are still being libeled. And that’s just wrong.
And he followed up with:
Every few months, some failed or faded political blogger assembles a hit list of “fake news” sites that always includes a number of legitimate and respected sites randomly lumped in with actual fake-news hoax sites. The losers who publish these lists are simply trying to gain attention for themselves, because they think the controversy and backlash will somehow help them. It never does. These people are never heard from again. And yet dummies keep making these intentionally dishonest lists. This is just the first time I’ve seen an educator make a phony list like this, and beyond internet fame, I don’t fully understand her motivation. Usually it’s dead-end bloggers who are jealous of the independent publications that are beating them out.
Melissa Zimdars is not a “faded political blogger,” or a “dead-end blogger,” and she is not making any money by publishing this list. It is almost certain that if Mr. Palmer gets wind of his inclusion in this article, he will call me those things as well, but for now, he is attacking Zimdars.
The big sites on her list probably aren’t taking any notice of this at all. They know it won’t matter. People will still flock to Breitbart, or AddictingInfo, or Drudge, InfoWars, or Occupy Democrats, no matter how many lists are published. Those people don’t want the truth; they want to live in their safe echo chamber, and have their biases confirmed.
Where do you get your news? Are you part of the solution? Do you fact check biased or questionable websites? Do you search for original content hidden within click bait articles? Or do you live in an echo chamber, content to only see or hear things with which you agree? Are your favorite sites on Melissa Zimdars’ list?
Support journalism, get the truth, dig for facts. Don’t visit or share sites whose only goal is to trick you into making them money. Get out of the echo chamber.