Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Will Fake News Lead To Fake Books?

The Internet has, for decades, been a tool for those who want to spread propaganda.  The idea that a gatekeeper or censor could no longer interfere with person-to-person communications on a mass scale is something we find inviting but also struggle to deal with when errors, lies or misinterpretations are promulgated and shared over and over.  We live in a fake news era, but the question is, are books immune to this?

Of course not.  Some books undoubtedly are published without authors using legitimate sources, without independently verifying information they share or quote, and without any outside fact-checkers employed pre-publication to confirm the manuscript’s veracity.

Each year, the number of self-published titles exceeds the number of books put out by traditional publishers.  In theory, publishers won’t acquire a book unless it believes it is worthy and commercially viable, nor will it publish a book where the content can’t be double-checked.  But in reality, publishers are glorified printers at times and they have put the pursuit of profit above holding themselves to any high quality standards.  So what happens is the quick-buck publisher rushes to take on a book it believes will sell, especially when the author agrees to buy a certain number of copies to give out or resell at events or via their website.

Then, once a publisher edits a book, it does so under two main prisms.  First, avoid any content that can lead to a lawsuit or offend individuals or groups the publisher is linked to.  The other concern is to not produce a book that has obvious misspellings or grammatical mistakes.  But it doesn’t have the time, resources, or even the desire to fact-check everything an author writes.

Self-published authors, unless they hire a good fact-checker or editor -- and give them the authority to actually alter the manuscript if it conflicts with reality -- will release books that challenge the truth.

Now add a new layer to this:  fake news.  Authors rely on news media reports for book ideas and to quote as a source. So what happens when authors don’t realize they are referencing a story that’s satirical, like from The Onion, or from an illegitimate site that doesn’t employ the standards of journalistic ethics that established media follow?  Or in the case of President Trump, what happens when you quote him on something where his source is fake news or mere editorializing from a media outlet?

The problem with the Internet is that it spreads fake news so fast and furiously.  Then people come to repeat these urban legends as if true, which spurs on reactionary debate and the creation of additional fake news.  Authors are not immune from this.

How can we avoid the meltdown of our media and inevitably the book ecosystem?

The burden really begins with the author of a book.  Whether self-published or traditionally published or subsidized published, he or she has the high duty and moralistic, if not legal, obligation to make sure his or her writings represent facts, truths, accurate quotes, and conclusions based on real news and not fake news.

Many writers are lazy and make assumptions about the information they source and then present.  They attach to a lower standard of proof to ascertain if something is correct or not.

They let partisan politics, personal preferences, past affiliations, or money to cloud their judgment.  For some authors it can be to their benefit to not check everything that they write.  They want to write what they believe, regardless of the facts.  Further, they may have an incentive or compensatory motivation to put out a narrative that they know is bogus.  

Some media, like Fox-TV, is a biased, advocacy network.  It is that way because it wants to further a political agenda but it also knows it can earn high ratings and charge a lot for commercials.  Many news outlets sell death, fear, and disaster – more people read, listen to and watch news that warns of blizzards, war or crime sprees. We are more willing to be glued to the set when a plane crashes, an entertainer dies or a video captures an attack on a woman.  Not all of this is the most important news, but it interests people, and what interests people sells papers, subscriber fees, and advertising.

The media can’t help itself.  It reports what it does based on:

·         Ideology and values.
·         Ego and fame.
·         Financial incentives.
·         To influence society.
·         Limited resources.

Authors may be guilty of the same thing, and thus will intentionally or unknowingly, write on matters that are false, unsubstantiated, misinterpreted, or only partially accurate.

We hear a lot about fake news.  Some organizations try to fight back.  Some media outlets report on their fact-checking of statements released by the government and others.  Some, like Facebook, will flag challenged content.  Some, like Twitter, may kick a user off if he or she tries to promote terrorism. Free speech, bans, censorship, and the issue of a fair media come up daily. 

So what can and should authors do?

1.      They must educate themselves on what they write about.  They will need to really expose themselves to all kinds of sources in order to gain a consensus on the truth.

2.      They must question the content they consume.  They need to fact-check but also wonder if that source has a motive or objective that needs to be scrutinized.

3.      The writer now has to be a better detective, a better philosopher, a better researcher, and a better human being, because he or she is in a new role – to not only write well and present ideas and information in a powerful way, but to make sure these writings are based on real news accounts.

4.      They will need to utilize the services of better researchers and editors, who use a higher moral ground and greater skill set to sniff out bullshit.

5.      They will need to be ready to provide documents and support to show any doubters – and they’ll have to work doubly hard at promoting their books and brand because too many haters, fakers, and losers will try to undermine them.

Publishers, editors, literary agents, libraries, bookstores, and even readers will need to play a role here as well.  They will hold themselves and each other – and the writer – to a higher standard.  We must be vigilant in discovering, exposing, and punishing those who create and share fake news.

Make no mistake, fake news has not only infiltrated the media and as a result, society, it has infected the book industry like a bad case of bed bugs.  It makes me itchy, to think about it, but we need to do something fast if we are to eradicate or minimize the problems a fake news world causes the book industry.

Will we soon need some third-party, non-profit group to form, where its sole job is to examine if a book offers fakery?  Who would fund the group?  What standards would they use?  How would workers be trained?  What if this group oversteps its mission or has members with a hidden agenda?

No group, no person, no government is perfect or unbiased or without some type of agenda.  Self-preservation can infiltrate anything, even the books that you read.  But we have to start somewhere and try hard to purify the books that society reads, otherwise we will all be living fake lives.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2017©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby http://blog.bookbaby.com/2013/09/the-best-book-marketing-blogs

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