How to Spot Fake News

Today we’re going to talk about how to avoid being a sucker who believes everything they read on the internet (or are told by friends or whatever.)

Pirates, if anything, trick other people. They do not get tricked.

This is related to my previously discussed admonition to Beware of Sharks, but different. In that case, we were talking about how to be aware of instances in which companies are trying to take advantage of you. Today, in the modern parlance, we’re talking about fake news.

Now, I’m going to attempt to write this without offending any of my readers, especially those of you I’ve actually met. You see, when people believe these kinds of things, it tends to be because of emotional reasons (which makes sense, given that there aren’t any rational reasons available.)

So they tend to get rather crabby when you tell them they’re wrong.

This is one of the pitfalls of learning to identify “fake news.” The other one is trying to keep a straight face when an otherwise rational person is trying to tell you something you already know is ridiculous.

But in some ways this is actually a good thing, because one of easiest ways to tell if something is false (or at any rate, unbalanced or misleading) is by its emotional effect on you.

People invent these stories presumably in order to get a rise out of people, and this emotional response is what allows them to be spread and believed.

So if you find yourself having a very strong emotional reaction to something you’ve hear, and it confirms the beliefs you already hold, and you don’t really know where the information is coming from…be suspicious.

Be very suspicious. Especially if someone is trying to sell you something.

Here are some other red flags to look out for:

  • If the story makes something ordinary and innocent suddenly seem threatening, especially if it’s really outrageous.
  • There’s something horrible in the product of an ostensibly trusted brand.
  • Something really newsworthy has supposedly happened, but is not being reported in the actual news.
  • It makes you feel like you are among the select few to know a special secret (unless it openly involves a lot of hard work. Then maybe. Unless it’s one of those pyramid schemes.

Once you’ve identified a bit of information you deem suspect, what then do you do with it?

You could of course do all the relevant research yourself, and you should. But for more trivial concerns there’s a better way.

When there’s work to be done, pirates prefer as much as possible that it be done by other people. Not because we’re lazy, but because we have better things to do. There are a lot of these stories floating around and no one has time to do all that research.

Except for people who have decided to make it their mission to do said research. So let them do it for you.

For instance, the good folks down at snopes.com.

They’re not the be-all end-all of course, and nobody is. But, unlike much of what you read on the internet, they are people who have thought through their opinion and laid out their reasoning for you to interrogate. Unless your interrogations lead to something suspect, it’s probably safe to trust what they say.

After I discovered it, I used to love reading through all the articles in their archive. Just to know what’s out there, and because I fancied myself an amateur folklorist.

It was rather entertaining, and I also got to know what “fake news” sounds like.

Once you’ve absorbed a number of stories that have proven to be fake, you develop a sort of “sniff test” with which to consider things. You develop the healthy skepticism with which pirates avoid being taken in by most sorts of nonsense.

These days, that skill is more important than ever.

How to Avoid Being Duped by Soulless Corporations

This is to be the first of many posts dealing with The Pirate’s Code. Or rather, my pirate’s code.

The actual Pirate’s code (yes, set down by Morgan and Bartholomew, among other people) were much more like case law, and way too specific to be useful for my purposes. Except maybe for the prohibition on gambling, which I am most certainly going to steal borrow without permission.

You can check out the Wikipedia article on the pirate’s code here, if you are so inclined.

The first discussions of my Pirate’s Code will be a series of foundational articles that detail my own introduction to pirate theory more-or-less chronologically, as well as allowing me to talk about life skills useful to any pirate.

Being as I’ve decided to be chronological about this, I thought initially that my first post of this type would have to be what I learned from watching the first Pirates movie. But then I realized that my first introduction to pirate theory as I have come to understand it actually came from my dad.

Because it was my dad who taught me how the world works, how to spot scam emails, and how to avoid being taken in by corporations who don’t have my best interests at heart. Therefore:

Beware Of Sharks

If you listen to economists, you may come to believe that there are two types of entities in the world: corporations, and consumers.

To my mind, there are three: sharks, landlubbers, and pirates.

Sharks are people or entities that want to exploit you. Scammers on the internet. Corporations with chirpy marketing teams and PR departments. As friendly as they may seem, their only interest is what they can get from you. Today I’m mainly going to focus on corporations.

I’m not necessarily talking about the people employed by corporations, you understand. I don’t intend to bash any people working for any of the corporations I discuss in this article or elsewhere. I’m talking about the behavior of the corporation itself.

So whenever any corporation offers you something, you have to ask yourself what their purpose is in offering it to you, whether the offer is actually something that is good for you, and how you might turn the situation to your advantage.

Take the banks, for instance. We need them. My bank allows me to do a lot of fun stuff I couldn’t do without them (well, without a bank. Not necessarily the one I use specifically.)

For instance, my bank allows me to loan money to corporations which they will then eventually return to me with interest in the form of dividends and capital gains. This is my preferred form of interaction with corporations.

However, my bank also does some sneaky things in order to attempt to take money from me. Like offering me identity theft insurance policies I don’t need (and no, I really don’t, but more on this later.) Or an unsecured line of credit.

Why is an offer of credit bad, you ask? Because the bank is using its reputation of responsibility to imply that it thinks it is a good idea for me to go out and buy stuff with this money it’s offering to lend me. Which it is, but only for them. Because they want me to pay them interest on line of credit loans forever.

They want to make money. Fine, I get it.

But that is the difference between landlubbers and pirates. Landlubbers take the line of credit and use it to buy a car or assorted other crap they don’t need, and unnecessarily give the bank money in addition to unnecessarily giving money to the makers of said crap.

Pirates are the people who make it their mission to never ever ever unnecessarily give their money to anybody.

Granted, a pirate is never going to be perfect at that, because sometimes what they’re offering is shiny and you really want it. But then you go into the deal with full knowledge that you’re acting like a landlubber, and you don’t make a habit of it.

(To practice Good Form, I should mention here that I’m not the only blogger who writes about this. Mr. Money Mustache has also talked about this at length, but he refers to landlubbers as “consumer suckas.”)

Now, I did take the offer of the line of credit, just as a cash cushion in case of unavoidable emergencies.

Credit card companies are of course even worse, with their outrageous interest rates. But you and I can get back at them by using them to collect reward points and paying charges off monthly so as to deprive them of said outrageous interest.

Points offered by grocery stores are a lot like this too. They like to trick you into thinking that you save more by spending more. Because the more you buy, the more points you get. Right?

No. That’s dumb.

The only way to save money is by not spending it.

But sure, use the point rewards. But use them as you would a coupon, because that’s basically what they are. On mine, it generally adds up to a ten percent discount.

Or actually, use them the way frugality experts use coupons. That is, by waiting until a staple is on sale, or points, or whatever, and then stocking up. That way you only buy the stuff you were going to buy anyway, but cheaper. So you save money.

Of course most people end up buying things they wouldn’t have otherwise, which is why companies run rewards programs. But you don’t have to.

Don’t be a landlubber, be a pirate. It’s more fun.