Make news literacy a point

If you’re looking for news, for heaven’s sake get off of Facebook and find a real news source, writes Roger Plothow.

Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg wants to assure us that the company takes the issue of “fake news” seriously, but she’s quite sure it didn’t play a role in the recent election.

Well, that’s a relief.

“There have been claims that it swayed the election, and we don’t think it swayed the election,” Sandberg said in a recent television interview. “But we take that responsibility really seriously. And we’re looking at things, like working with third parties, helping to label false news, doing the things we can do to make it clearer what’s a hoax on Facebook.”

Beyond wondering how Sandberg knows whether Facebook played a role in the election’s outcome, her statement about doing what they can to identify hoaxes on the world’s most popular social medium rings a bit hollow. There is, however, a glimmer of hope.

Last week Facebook announced new steps to help identify fake news. If enough people question something as potentially fake, the item will be sent to third parties that are part of the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network. Stories that don’t pass muster will be labeled “disputed.”

In other words, journalists will be called upon to vet the information. To be part of the fact-checking network, organizations must agree to follow a five-point code or principles that sound very much like the Post Register’s own code of ethics. Read them here:

It’s a start. More to the point, however – if you’re looking for news, for heaven’s sake get off of Facebook and find a real news source. In future columns we’ll talk about what “real news” looks like, but for now let’s assume that Facebook doesn’t qualify.

We all know the story, of course, of the clearly unstable young man who believed that a pizza parlor in Washington D.C. was somehow linked to a child sex ring that was also somehow connected to Hillary Clinton. As crazy as that sounds, the son of the man President-elect Donald Trump has named to run our National Security Agency continued to suggest the hoax might be true despite all evidence to the contrary. To its credit, the Trump team fired him from the transition team. But, still …

Hoaxes have always been with us and will never go away, but the internet is gas on a fire. Some worry, understandably, that one of the side effects will be an increasing reluctance of people to believe anything they read, including the true stuff. The better solution is to make news literacy a priority, from our school curricula to our family conversations over the evening meal.

Plothow is the Post Register’s editor and publisher. You can write to him at 333 Northgate Mile, Idaho Falls, ID, 83403 or email him This is part of a year-long series of weekly columns on news, journalism and information literacy.