Here’s A “Little List” Worth Perusing: Fake News Clues

The pop-culture-trivia-snark-list website Cracked (and how sad is it that the site based on the inferior magazine knock-off of Mad Magazine is still going and Mad has bitten the metaphorical dust?) has a post listing twenty ways not to be fooled by fake news. It starts out,

Thanks to the Twitters and the Facebooks of the world, these days we pretty much just get our “news” from the clickbait headlines we see while scrolling through poorly-made but still hilarious memes. Which sucks, because it’s pretty much ruining society. So here’s how to avoid becoming an uninformed angry internet denizen in the future.

Among the article’s observations:

  • Don’t trust The Daily Mail. I knew it was basically a rag, but I didn’t know the Daily Mail has overtaken the New York Times as the most visited news website.

I’ve never used the Daily Mail for a story without checking other sources, but he’s right; it’s lazy. I won’t use it from now on.

  • The use of the term “after ” in a headline implies causation that is often not there.

This is a New York Times specialty, particularly on Trump-bashing stories by reporter Maggie Halberman.

  • The post warns of headlines that are composed to nab clicks but that do not accurately reflect the content of the story beneath..

Another New York Times specialty.

  • This one was unintentionally funny, especially in the midst of the rest:

What reputable news sources? As the list amply demonstrates, there aren’t any! Continue reading

Sunday Ethics Rundown, 11/25/ 18: Liberty Games

Good Morning!

1. Baraboo hangover. Apparently the Wisconsin male high school students who gave a Nazi salute in an off-campus photo will not be punished. The superintendent overseeing Baraboo High, Lori Mueller of the Baraboo School District, said in the letter that the district was “not in a position to punish the students for their actions” because of their First Amendment rights. That’s right from a Constitutional viewpoint, and something good will come of the incident if it means that schools will stop punishing students for what they post on social on their own time. Here is the photo, in case you have forgotten…

The Times article sure is full of dissembling and nonsense, however. Peter Gust, the jerk who took and posted the photo, claims that it had been modified by “malevolent behavior on the part of some in society.” Sure. Jordan Blue, the boy in the upper right hand corner in the red tie, has embraced the role of ethics hero in the media, and is grandstanding and virtue signaling like mad, saying that he didn’t have time to leave the photo but that he didn’t raise his arm because “I knew what my morals were and it was not to salute something I didn’t firmly believe in.” Uh, that should be “firmly didn’t believe in,” Jordan. Then there is Brock Turkington, also  in the photograph, whose story is that  “As we were about to take that photo, the photographer instructed the boys to give a ‘high-sign.” The photographer instructed us to extend our arms out, no one knew what a ‘high-sign’ was. I asked another student next to me ‘What are we doing?’ He responded, ‘Stick your arm out.’” But that’s not a “high-sign.” That’s a Heil-sign.

2. I won a bet with myself! Cracked, the list and pop culture commentary website that evolved out of a cheap Mad Magazine rip-off from the Sixties, has a feature called “5 Laws From Other Countries (The USA Should Totally Steal).” Cracked is dominated by smug, if clever, social justice warriors, so I made a bet with myself that the list would contain  several concepts that were unconstitutional or that would advance the Left’s dream of perpetual power. (By the way, you can’t “steal” a law.) Sure enough, the tally was three out of five. I win!!! Continue reading

Someone At “Cracked” Has A Good Ethics Alarm

A “Cracked” video highlights four examples of irresponsible, cruel and disrespectful conduct that have been widely cheered on the internet. It is spot on. See for yourself:

The one that most interest me is the first: the Burger King customer who was annoyed at the child whining about wanting an apple pie behind him, so he bought out all of the pies in the store and ate one in front of the kid to teach him a lesson. On a Consumerist poll, less than five percent of respondents thought the guy was wrong.

Game, set, match, “Cracked”:

1. It’s not a bystander’s job to discipline someone else’s child.

2. The guy left the mother to cope with the now thoroughly upset kid, as he walked of with the pies.

3. There might well have been several other customers who wanted one of those pies. Ah, yes, the old shotgun approach, and collateral damage to innocents be damned…

4. This was gratuitous cruelty, excessive for the transgression. What a jerk.

Of course, the story was related on Reddit, and is likely fake. Never mind: the web shouldn’t be applauding unethical conduct. That was Cracked’s point, and also mine.

What I want to know is how I missed this story, which is almost two months old. Or did I just miss one of the e-mail alerts from my invaluable scouts, Alexander and Fred? If so, I’m sorry guys. If not: how did you miss this? You catch almost everything else!


Pointer: Tim LaVier

Tricking Yourself Into Being More Ethical

Cracked 5 waysOver at Cracked, the website that excels at developing clever factoid lists and debunking conventional wisdom, they have posted a list of “5 Scientific Ways To Trick Yourself Into Being A Good Person.”

Uh-huh. As usual for this site, the headline is just a bit overstated. “Trick” is a misleading word here: most of the devices involve the phenomenon of priming, which basically means that we are more ethical the more something focuses our attention on the ethical implications of what we are doing. By Cracked’s definition of “trick,” Ben Franklin’s morning and evening questions are tricks.

Skepticism is also warranted because we are just getting summaries of studies, and brief, non-technical, non-critical ones at that. It is impossible to know what extraneous factors might have polluted the results, or what biases the researchers brought to their research. Social science research is notoriously fallible and subject to design flaws, particularly regarding sample size. Such research is also prone to confuse cause and effect. I am especially dubious of #2 on the list, “Washing Your Hands Makes You Less Prejudiced.” Yes, researchers found that those who chose to use sanitary wipes on their hands when given the option during a flu epidemic scored better after doing so than those who declined to sanitize when they were asked to answer a survey designed to measure prejudice. I think it is a logical stretch to conclude that the act of ridding their hands of germs washed away the subjects’ biases; it is more likely that those who were more considerate of people around them, as indicated by their interest in sanitizing their hands during a flu outbreak, were also the most empathetic, tolerant and unbiased to begin with. That result isn’t nearly as startling as the claim that handwashing magically heals one’s prejudices, but Cracked apparently needed something to fill out a list of four.

It’s still an interesting article, even though ethical conduct takes a lot more cognitive effort than “tricks.”. You can read the whole thing here.

Six Tell-Tale Signs of Biased News Stories

Ethics critic. Really.

If you know “Cracked” at all, you probably remember its as Mad Magazine’s not-quite-as-funny competitor in the juvenile humor magazine market.  But yesterday’s rip-off humor rag is today’s clever website, and this week it unveiled a clever and useful article about the various ways print journalists slant the news. I have written about many of them, but Cracked writer C. Corville has done a thorough, perceptive, and entertaining job, identifying a couple I had missed. And she’s right.

Cracked’s “6 Subtle Ways The News Media Disguises Bullshit As Fact” are, in reverse order:


6. Weasel Words

5. Implying Without Saying

4. Burying Inconvenient Facts

3. Biased Photos

2. The Active Voice

1. Guessing the Motives Instead of Reporting the Facts

Excellent work. I recommend it highly.

Strange External Factors That Can Make Us More Ethical

“Cracked” would be on my list of one of the most unlikely websites to have an item relevant to this one, but here it is: a fascinating list of studies indicating that many external factors tip human beings toward ethical conduct, or away from it.

I gather from the list that looking at the CBS logo on a TV I can see through a broken window while being happily filthy standing in a grove of freakishly large lemon trees during a violent lightning storm will pretty much make me a saint.

You can read about the studies here.