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Democracy

It's easy to be duped by online hoaxes — so we spoke with an expert at spotting fake news.

Being able to tell truth from lies is more important than ever.

fake news, experts, social media, fact checking
Canva

It's getting harder and harder to tell.

True
Firefox

"Fake news" is more than just the phrase the president uses to brush aside stories he doesn't like. It's a real thing, and something we should all be on the lookout for.

Below is an image of Parkland student Emma González tearing up a copy of the U.S. Constitution that went viral in 2018, sending some corners of social media into a frenzy.



There was one problem, however: It was totally fake.

The actual photo came from a Teen Vogue video shoot featuring her and some of the other Parkland students. In the real clip, González is seen tearing up a paper shooting target.

fake news, Teen Vogue, gun rights, activism

Teen Vogue photo shoot goes viral.

linked image from snopes.com

The fact-check was swift, but a lot of damage was done, as the altered image continued making the rounds.

It's easy to be duped by online hoaxes — so we spoke with someone whose job it was to spot them every day.

At the time of this incident, managing editor Brooke Binkowski wrestled with the importance of truth and figuring out how to stop the spread of hoaxes every day for the highly trusted fact-checking website Snopes.

fact checking, fake news, urban legends, story, news topics

Snopes fact checks urban legends.

www.snopes.com

The site, launched in 1994, began as a collection of fact-checks on some of the internet's early urban legends. Wanted to find out whether or not that story about the killer with a hook for a hand was true? Snopes had you covered. Needed to know whether your favorite brand of bubble gum is filled with spider eggs? The answer was just one click away.

As the site evolved its taken on more serious topics, online hoaxes, and "fake news." Did Donald Trump wade into the waters of a flooded Texas city to save two cats from drowning after Hurricane Harvey? (No.) Did Barack Obama congratulate Vladimir Putin on his 2012 electoral victory? (Yes.)

Snopes is often cited alongside FactCheck.org and PolitiFact as some of the best, most accurate, and bias-free fact-checking websites in the world, even earning it a partnership with Facebook.

Binkowski spoke with Upworthy about how to deal with increasingly sophisticated hoaxes we all encounter online (and gave us a few behind-the-scenes secrets about how the people at Snopes do what they do best).

The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Why does the truth matter, and what harm is there in sharing fake stories?

The truth matters because without being able to agree on the most basic facts, there is no democracy. Democracy depends on an informed, educated populace in order to survive. To actively suppress curiosity or obscure facts is to actively suppress democratic norms.

When you share fake or misleading stories, first of all, don't beat yourself up about it if you were trying not to! We all fall for it. Some of it is extremely convincing.

I strongly believe that the onus should not be on the individual to sift through all the garbage to find good, vetted news on top of every other thing they have going on in their life, as I hear many suggest — that's why journalism exists. I think people are overall extremely smart and crave information, but without vetted and transparent information, they fall for conspiracy theorizing.

That's what propaganda and disinformation seize on. If you repeat that pattern across a country, it dramatically erodes these democratic norms. Plus, have you ever tried to talk to a really entrenched conspiracy theorist?

So I would be as mindful as you can about the sources of stories and try your best not to share disinformation — and if you do, I would try to be upfront about it and delete it so that it does not spread.

Right now is a crucial time to be mindful, even though I just said the onus shouldn't be on the individual. It shouldn't, but we simply don't have enough working journalists to go around right now, because our industry has been allowed to collapse in the name of executive profit.

Can you walk us through how Snopes fact-checks a story?

We don't have any one specific way that we fact-check a story — there's no real formula for doing so. A lot of what we do is so disappointing when I describe it to people, because it's not magic. It's "just" journalism.

I try to give my writers time and space to do the research that they need to do, although sometimes it's a little difficult when we have "conspiracizing" from all sides. So sometimes, one of us will have to head to the library to pull books or go over to the local university to look through papers on campus.

A lot of the time we do old-fashioned reporting. Our staff is all over the United States and they know their stuff, so I'll take advantage of that and send them out on the field sometimes. We also, of course, know the repeat fake-news and satire offenders, so that makes it easy, because we can save a lot of time just by noting that they have an all-purpose disclaimer buried somewhere on their site. Sometimes we do photo or video forensics and FOIA requests (not that we get a lot of those answered, hahaha).


We try to be as thorough and as transparent with our work as possible, which is why we have a source list at the bottom of each page and maybe describe our methodology in a bit more detail than we should — but that's how we all roll.

Which is also why, on a side note, I find the conspiracy theories about us a bit puzzling. We're really easy to track down online, we list all our sources, and we try to be as open as humanly possible without also being boring about our methodology.

And yet people still think we're part of a grand conspiracy. I'm still waiting for my check from George Soros/the Lizard People/the Clinton Foundation, though. It's been, like, 20 years!

...OK, if you're a conspiracy theorist reading that last sentence, that's a joke. I already got my checks.

No, no, I'm sorry. I just can't stop myself.

Photo via Teen Vogue, illustration by Tatiana Cardenas/Upworthy.

What can regular, everyday people do to avoid hoaxes and "fake news?"

My best tip that I can possible give readers is this: Disinformation and propaganda classically take hold by using emotional appeals. That is why what Cambridge Analytica did should be viewed through that lens.

One of the more sinister things that I have read that they did, in my opinion (among other things I'm sure that no one yet knows), was track people who were highly susceptible to authoritarianism, then flood them with violent imagery that was invisible to everyone else on social media, so that they were always in a state of fear and emotional arousal and highly susceptible to an authoritarian message.

That's the type of person propaganda historically targets anyway — those who feel out of step with society and have strong tendencies toward authoritarianism — but now, groups like Cambridge Analytica are doing it faster and more surgically.

If you're reading, viewing, or listening to a story that's flooding you with high emotion, negative or positive — whether it's fear, rage, schadenfreude, amusement at how gullible everyone else is — check your sources. You are being played. Do a quick search for the story, see if it has been debunked at minimum, and/or look for other sources and perspectives.

One of the most noxious things about disinformation and propaganda is that both weave some truth into their lies, which makes the lies much, much stronger.

Something I like to say about political leanings is that the right assumes it has the moral upper hand and the left assumes it has the intellectual upper hand — both are tremendous weaknesses that are easy to exploit.

Don't let yourself be exploited. Be on guard. Don't assume other people are sheep and don't assume other people are morally bankrupt. Propaganda wants you to assume the worst about your fellow denizens; the people who push it out want the basic fabric of society destroyed.

It wants you hating your lovers, your neighbors, your family members, the guy at the store, the lady at the coffee shop. Propagandists want you distrusting each other, bickering, and unable to agree on the most basic facts — because then they can exploit those cracks further and consolidate power in the process.

Don't let yourself be taken in.

The basic take-aways for the average person? Get your news from trusted sources, confirm it with a second source, check your own confirmation biases, and get familiar with reverse image search tools.

This story originally appeared on 03.30.18

Pop Culture

Here’s a paycheck for a McDonald’s worker. And here's my jaw dropping to the floor.

So we've all heard the numbers, but what does that mean in reality? Here's one year's wages — yes, *full-time* wages. Woo.

Making a little over 10,000 for a yearly salary.


I've written tons of things about minimum wage, backed up by fact-checkers and economists and scholarly studies. All of them point to raising the minimum wage as a solution to lifting people out of poverty and getting folks off of public assistance. It's slowly happening, and there's much more to be done.

But when it comes right down to it, where the rubber meets the road is what it means for everyday workers who have to live with those wages. I honestly don't know how they do it.


Ask yourself: Could I live on this small of a full-time paycheck? I know what my answer is.

(And note that the minimum wage in many parts of the county is STILL $7.25, so it would be even less than this).

paychecks, McDonalds, corporate power, broken system

One year of work at McDonalds grossed this worker $13,811.18.

assets.rebelmouse.io

This story was written by Brandon Weber and was originally appeared on 02.26.15

Pop Culture

What is 'Generation Jones'? The unique qualities of the not-quite-Gen-X-baby-boomers.

This "microgeneration" had a different upbringing than their fellow boomers.

Generation Jones includes Michelle Obama, George Clooney, Kamala Harris, Keanu Reeves and more.

We hear a lot about the major generation categories—boomers, Gen X, millennials, Gen Z and the up-and-coming Gen Alpha. But there are folks who don't quite fit into those boxes. These in-betweeners, sometimes called "cuspers," are members of microgenerations that straddle two of the biggies.

"Xennial" is the nickname for those who fall on the cusp of Gen X and millennial, but there's also a lesser-known microgeneration that straddles Gen X and baby boomers. The folks born from 1954 to 1965 are known as Generation Jones, and they've been thrust into the spotlight as people try to figure out what generation to consider 59-year-old Vice President Kamala Harris.

Like President Obama before her, Harris is a Gen Jonesernot exactly a classic baby boomer but not quite Gen X. Born in October 1964, Harris falls just a few months shy of official Gen X territory. But what exactly differentiates Gen Jones from the boomers and Gen Xers that flank it?


"Generation Jones" was coined by writer, television producer and social commentator Jonathan Pontell to describe the decade of Americans who grew up in the '60s and '70s. As Pontell wrote of Gen Jonesers in Politico:

"We fill the space between Woodstock and Lollapalooza, between the Paris student riots and the anti-globalisation protests, and between Dylan going electric and Nirvana going unplugged. Jonesers have a unique identity separate from Boomers and GenXers. An avalanche of attitudinal and behavioural data corroborates this distinction."

Pontell describes Jonesers as "practical idealists" who were "forged in the fires of social upheaval while too young to play a part." They are the younger siblings of the boomer civil rights and anti-war activists who grew up witnessing and being moved by the passion of those movements but being met with a fatigued culture by the time they themselves came of age. Sometimes, they're described as the cool older siblings of Gen X. Unlike their older boomer counterparts, most Jonesers were not raised by WWII veteran fathers and were too young to be drafted into Vietnam, leaving them in between on military experience.

Gen Jones gets its name from the competitive "keeping up with the Joneses" spirit that spawned during their populous birth years, but also from the term "jonesin'," meaning an intense craving, that they coined—a drug reference but also a reflection of the yearning to make a difference that their "unrequited idealism" left them with. According to Pontell, their competitiveness and identity as a "generation aching to act" may make Jonesers particularly effective leaders:

"What makes us Jonesers also makes us uniquely positioned to bring about a new era in international affairs. Our practical idealism was created by witnessing the often unrealistic idealism of the 1960s. And we weren’t engaged in that era’s ideological battles; we were children playing with toys while boomers argued over issues. Our non-ideological pragmatism allows us to resolve intra-boomer skirmishes and to bridge that volatile Boomer-GenXer divide. We can lead."

Time will tell whether the United States will end up with another Generation Jones leader, but with President Biden withdrawing his candidacy, it has now become a distinct possibility.

Of note in discussions over Kamala Harris's generational status is the fact that generations aren't just calculated by birth year but by a person's cultural reality. Some have made the argument that Harris is culturally more Gen X than boomer, though there doesn't seem to be any record of her claiming any particular generation as her own. However, a swath of Gen Z has staked their own claim on her as "brat"—a term singer Charli XCX thrust into the political arena with a post on X that read "kamala IS brat." That may be nonsensical to most older folks, but for Gen Z, it's a glowing endorsement from one of the top Gen Z musicians of the moment.

Democracy

This Map Reveals The True Value Of $100 In Each State

Your purchasing power can swing by 30% from state to state.

Image by Tax Foundation.

Map represents the value of 100 dollars.


As the cost of living in large cities continues to rise, more and more people are realizing that the value of a dollar in the United States is a very relative concept. For decades, cost of living indices have sought to address and benchmark the inconsistencies in what money will buy, but they are often so specific as to prevent a holistic picture or the ability to "browse" the data based on geographic location.

The Tax Foundation addressed many of these shortcomings using the most recent (2015) Bureau of Economic Analysis data to provide a familiar map of the United States overlaid with the relative value of what $100 is "worth" in each state. Granted, going state-by-state still introduces a fair amount of "smoothing" into the process — $100 will go farther in Los Angeles than in Fresno, for instance — but it does provide insight into where the value lies.


The map may not subvert one's intuitive assumptions, but it nonetheless quantities and presents the cost of living by geography in a brilliantly simple way. For instance, if you're looking for a beach lifestyle but don't want to pay California prices, try Florida, which is about as close to "average" — in terms of purchasing power, anyway — as any state in the Union. If you happen to find yourself in a "Brewster's Millions"-type situation, head to Hawaii, D.C., or New York. You'll burn through your money in no time.

income, money, economics, national average

The Relative Value of $100 in a state.

Image by Tax Foundation.

If you're quite fond of your cash and would prefer to keep it, get to Mississippi, which boasts a 16.1% premium on your cash from the national average.

The Tax Foundation notes that if you're using this map for a practical purpose, bear in mind that incomes also tend to rise in similar fashion, so one could safely assume that wages in these states are roughly inverse to the purchasing power $100 represents.


This article originally appeared on 08.17.17

Representative photos by Canva and Evelyn Giggles|Flickr

Mom hilariously demands to know secret to clean kids' rooms.

Kids' bedrooms can be a source of contention in some households. Some kids are just naturally more tidy than others while some are more like little tornados leaving debris wherever they go refusing to clean it up. Parents can be on different wavelengths when it comes to how clean a child's room should be.

You've got the parents who are huge proponents of simply closing the door. If you can't see the mess, then the mess doesn't exist. You've got some parents that do a weekly or monthly clean themselves in an attempt to save their sanity. Then you've got the ones that have daily room cleans as part of their child's routine, but not everyone can or wants to be at that level.

Ariel B. recently posted a video asking parents to explain how they get their children to clean their rooms as she pans to her daughters' rooms that are in complete disarray.


The exhausted mom starts off by explaining that motherhood is ghetto. In fact she surmises that the "hood" people are talking about when they say the hood is ghetto is indeed motherhood before asking how other parents are doing it.

"My daughters' rooms are so nasty, everything you are ever looking for in your house is in them rooms," Ariel says.

This frustration started when her kids couldn't find their field trip shirts for summer camp, which prompted her to go in their rooms to investigate. She then shows everyone the room where the shirt was lost, exclaiming, "You couldn't find Jesus in this room. You couldn't find common sense, humility, any decent soul in this room."


The room was strewn with clothes, toys and other things. Commenters not only pointed out the mannequin head looking distressed under the bed but related hard to what the mom was saying and supported her rant.

"The mannequin head laying under table looking stressed. Her face looks like it’s saying 'help me,'" one person laughs.

"I'm closing the door. I have an almost 3 & 6 year old and I'm 37 weeks today…I close the door. It’s no way y'all messed the room up like this and expect me to clean it. So, when they get back from Florida, they can clean it themselves," another says.

"You're cracking me up! I can definitely relate to finding wrappers. I said 23 times don't eat in your room. I'm not cleaning it," another writes.

"That last part gets me crackin up every time I watch this. I watch this on the daily to remind myself it’s not just my kid," one mom admits.

But if you watch closely as Ariel pans the messy bedrooms you'll notice there's something important missing from the bed frames...a mattress. One person inquired about the important missing item and the response is not only comical but makes so much sense.

"I flipped the mattress looking for the orange shirt after I stepped on a Barbie jeep and almost broke my neck," Ariel explains before following up in another comment saying the mattress is in the hallway—it likely made it much easier to clean under the bed. And while the mom did receive some advice in the comments, it's unclear if she will heed any.

Bill Gates in conversation with The Times of India

Bill Gates sure is strict on how his children use the very technology he helped bring to the masses.

In a recent interview with the Mirror, the tech mogul said his children were not allowed to own their own cellphone until the age of 14. "We often set a time after which there is no screen time, and in their case that helps them get to sleep at a reasonable hour," he said. Gates added that the children are not allowed to have cellphones at the table, but are allowed to use them for homework or studying.


The Gates children, now 20, 17 and 14, are all above the minimum age requirement to own a phone, but they are still banned from having any Apple products in the house—thanks to Gates' longtime rivalry with Apple founder Steve Jobs.

smartphones, families, responsible parenting, social media

Bill Gates tasting recycled water.

Image from media.giphy.com.

While the parenting choice may seem harsh, the Gates may be onto something with delaying childhood smartphone ownership. According to the 2016 "Kids & Tech: The Evolution of Today's Digital Natives"report, the average age that a child gets their first smartphone is now 10.3 years.

"I think that age is going to trend even younger, because parents are getting tired of handing their smartphones to their kids," Stacy DeBroff, chief executive of Influence Central, told The New York Times.

James P. Steyer, chief executive of Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that reviews content and products for families, additionally told the Times that he too has one strict rule for his children when it comes to cellphones: They get one when they start high school and only when they've proven they have restraint. "No two kids are the same, and there's no magic number," he said. "A kid's age is not as important as his or her own responsibility or maturity level."

PBS Parents also provided a list of questions parents should answer before giving their child their first phone. Check out the entire list below:

  • How independent are your kids?
  • Do your children "need" to be in touch for safety reasons—or social ones?
  • How responsible are they?
  • Can they get behind the concept of limits for minutes talked and apps downloaded?
  • Can they be trusted not to text during class, disturb others with their conversations, and to use the text, photo, and video functions responsibly (and not to embarrass or harass others)?
  • Do they really need a smartphone that is also their music device, a portable movie and game player, and portal to the internet?
  • Do they need something that gives their location information to their friends—and maybe some strangers, too—as some of the new apps allow?
  • And do you want to add all the expenses of new data plans? (Try keeping your temper when they announce that their new smartphone got dropped in the toilet...)


This article originally appeared on 05.01.17