By Skyler Ash
Describe yourself in one word. Are you smart? Are you kind? Are you loyal? I’m funny. If there’s one thing that’s always been true about me, it’s that I can make people laugh, or at least smirk and exhale a little more air than usual.
Last week, more than 4,000 people read three fun stories on The Eyeopener’s website and some thought they were real. But they weren’t. I would have described those 4,000 people as gullible. But is that fair? I don’t know these people.
Now more than ever, people who read the news must do so with a wary eye. Caution is key, and hypervigilance is paramount.
There’s a scary phenomenon on the rise. It threatens the bond that journalists like myself and my fellow editors at The Eye have worked so hard to uphold: a bond of trust between us and our readers. You don’t read the news to find lies, you read it for the truth. The cold hard facts, not the “alternative facts.”
Here at The Eyeopener, we produce real news, and we do it pretty well. Sometimes, we’re almost too good at finding the truth—and that makes people angry. But that’s a good thing, because the truth can be uncomfortable. And once in a while, people need to realize that what makes you uncomfortable is often what triggers change.
But we don’t just produce news. We also produce satire. Pick up a copy of our paper. Turn to the last page. Welcome to the fun section! As fun editor, that’s been my home for the last year-and-a-half. It’s where I write whatever I want, quote whoever I want and sometimes, they let me change the font colour.
The fun section is where you go from ‘smart’ and ‘kind’ and ‘loyal’ to ‘gullible,’ because nothing we print here is real—and it’s been one of our traditions for decades. By the very definition of satire, we take real events, real topics, real people and real problems, then we present them to you in a new light. We do it to show you why you should care about something, or to hold people accountable for the things they do. (But we also do it for the laughs.)
No, Mohamed Lachemi isn’t using his Christmas money to pay for your 6 Fest refunds. No, there isn’t a secret club at Ryerson that fights squirrels in Lake Devo. No, Meryl Streep didn’t call out a member of the RSU. And no, Ryerson’s not getting a tunnel (but we totally should).
And no, we didn’t trick you. Every fun story is tagged and categorized as ‘fun.’ None of the quotes are real. Often, the people aren’t real. We didn’t trick you. You probably tricked yourself.
Fake news is dangerous, not just because it’s fake, but because we often don’t check to see if it’s fake. We see a headline, we read it, we keep scrolling. We see a photo, we share it, we move on with our lives. We believe it because in that moment, it seemed real, and that was enough.
It’s easy to walk into a trap without even noticing. But you need to stop doing that. Look around. Think critically. Think realistically. And be selective. Just because you read it on a nice looking website, it doesn’t mean it’s legitimate. Just because someone broke it up into neat little paragraphs, it doesn’t mean what they wrote is true. Just because it’s a nice photo, it doesn’t mean it’s real and hasn’t been doctored.
Trust is a complicated thing. We give it away too easily, and often to the wrong people. You might trust someone at the bus stop to give you directions, but would you trust them with you personal finances? No. You’d go find the person who’s qualified.
In the world of news, it’s the honest, hardworking journalists who are qualified.
The news moves fast. Do we always get it right? No. But do we try our hardest? Always. Unfailingly. To the end. It’s our job.
News: it’s the truth. Satire: it’s a joke. What you believe? That’s up to you.