When I read stuff about “fake news”, I get this twinge of disappointment and regret.
I wish my own site, Doubtful News, which started when internet-driven fake news was obvious but before it hit mainstream “trendy”, had been able to gain traction and support to sustain itself and take off during this explosion of interest in “fake news”. But by the Trump era, I was already worn out.
We had collectively identified bad news sources before most others, we pointed out misleading science and headlines, and saw the propagation of false “facts”. But we were just a tiny blip on the internet. The job was too big for me and one helper to manage part time, we never could get volunteer writers to keep writing. We had zero direct support from skeptical orgs (which I STILL say SHOULD have been doing this work all along). It was difficult for me to deal with years of web hosting issues and the failures to break into bigger circles all while having a full-time job and family. And the fake and misleading news came in huge waves every day; I was overwhelmed.
I could have raked in some cash with ads and clickbait on the site. Many “weird news” sites do this for profit, but I never wanted that. My goal was not to make money, just to do something to promote critical thinking. But I also failed because I was no good at self-promotion. I hoped I would be recognized by the mainstream in some way for my work and mission.
Wasting time, to me, is one of the worst things one can do. So, I try not to think all these years of work were a waste. I learned a LOT about news, the media, and how to run such a huge project. I did have some great times talking about the site, speaking to kids, and hearing from those who really enjoyed the site. It was cool while it lasted, I guess. Recently, a company expressed interest in buying the site, when they discovered it had no revenue (a net loss to run), they pulled out. I don’t know what’s going to happen to the site. There is a ton of excellent content generated since 2011 that I hope can remain. There are still thousands of page views every day. Anyone have any good ideas?
Today, I’m busy working on a research paper in collaboration with other authors, discovering fascinating new aspects about the reach of paranormal ideas in culture. My book, Scientifical Americans, will be coming out later this year. And we still do the podcast, 15 Credibility Street. I do those things because they are (mostly) enjoyable and enriching, at least for me.
The bottom line of all this, I think, is that it’s going to be a HUGE effort to shift the popular culture just a little bit away from this lack of critical evaluation of the news and to promote more careful thinking about what we know and don’t know. It can’t happen by just sheer passion and personal effort; only a coalition and cooperation of a solid base will achieve progress of lasting value. I hope I see that shift someday.