fake news

How to Spot Fake News

In contrast to Justice Potter Stewart’s 1964 observation about pornography, “we know it when we see it,” fake news is something that may be very hard to recognize.

There’s a reason so many people are confused or deceived by the information presented as fact. That’s because the way information is presented (and misrepresented) has become both more sophisticated and more convoluted. At its most basic, though, when done intentionally, the goal is simple: to confuse the public enough to make them question what they thought to be true.

Fake news is also about validating a deeply held narrative. Take, for example, Putin and the effort he’s made to not just keep people from seeing the truth, but also to validate their belief that Russia is a good country that it’s only defending itself and innocent Ukrainians are being brutalized by a Nazi regime. The tactic is very effective in case they hear something to the contrary.

When people can’t distinguish between facts and fakes, it creates confusion and misunderstanding about important and timely issues. And when people become jaded into a generalized sense that they “can’t believe anything you see/hear/read,” it intensifies polarization, messes with electoral outcomes, and undermines overall trust in legitimate news sources.

Another example can be seen in the recent news surrounding the invasion of Ukraine. “Twitter, TikTok, and Facebook are all full of ‘firsthand accounts’ and ‘threads from contacts’ and other such things. While many of them are legitimate, many, many more are not. There is old footage, deep fakes, made-up personal accounts of events, and more,” explains Sree Sreenivasan, managing director of Cronkite Pro, a global training initiative of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, in his weekly newsletter. Even official government statements from Ukraine should be taken with a grain of salt, he says. “Information wars go both ways, and just because your side says something you want to hear, doesn’t make it true.”

As we wrote recently in An Introduction to Fake News, fake news can be “disinformation,” exaggerated or mistakenly presented as news — or misinformation, delivered with the intention to deceive. Either way, there are a collection of attributes that news consumers should be alert to.

An important first step is being skeptical of any claims going viral, says FactCheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. As a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters, Factcheck.org applies journalism and scholarship to reduce the level of deception and confusion in politics by monitoring the factual accuracy of what is distributed in the media (both traditional and social).

When FactCheck.org first began warning the public in 2008, the most common red flags were excessive use of exclamation points, anonymous authors or sources, misspellings and odd use of capital letters, and in the case of chain e-mail, insistence that “This is NOT a hoax!”

Things have become more complicated since the days of emails from Nigerian princes looking for partners in investment. This is particularly true of outlets and websites that appear more professional, where the public’s level of scrutiny needs to go up a notch.

“A lot of posts that really take off tend to tap into presuppositions, appeal to somebody for example who thinks Democrats are always raising taxes. We recommend trying to check your biases. Much of this stuff plays into emotions, designed to make people angry or scared,” says Lori Robertson, managing editor of FactCheck.org. Always do a gut check before believing what you read, and definitely, before passing it on, she says. Otherwise, you’re just adding to the clickbait.

Some questions to ask of any article:

*Scrutinize the tone. Is there an angle being pushed? There’s a difference between an article that gets one fact wrong, either through shoddy or inexperienced journalism, and one that beats the drum for one viewpoint, with biased, questionable, or false sources.

*Does the source cited actually support the claim? Some official-looking sources have nothing whatsoever to do with the conclusion the article is trying to make. Linking to the Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act of 2012 seems like it adds legitimacy. But it doesn’t back up a story that a candidate is, say, trying to ban prenatal vitamins or legalize cocaine.

*Check the date and circumstances of an event that’s being credited to (or blamed on) a current politician. A headline referencing something that happened years ago can suggest causality where there is none—or deny causality where there is. Some photos and videos coming out of Ukraine are being disputed by Russian officials as footage from unrelated past wars.

*Who’s the author? Are they really who their credentials say they are? John Doe might have won an impressive number of esteemed awards and literary publications. But a few keystrokes can reveal whether or not he conferred them upon himself.

*Remember to sniff for satire or parody. Some fake news is offered simply for entertainment value, like The Onion. These stories don’t attempt to deceive readers because they aren’t meant to be taken seriously. Still, believe it or not, there are some people who take the Borowitz Report literally. Think before you retweet.

*Deep face videos do exist. But they aren’t generally done well enough or with credible enough material to go viral, says Robertson. Still, if you see something that seems too extraordinarily far-fetched or out of character, that might not be the horse to put your money on, even if you think you’re getting it from the horse’s mouth.

Would you like to dig deeper?

Visit our event Facts, Fake News, and the Media for an in-depth discussion between CNN+ anchor, Chris Wallace and NYT correspondent, Maggie Haberman.

Richard Davies Madeleine Albright

WATCH: Madeleine Albright Makes an Impression on a Young Reporter

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Madeleine Albright

Journalist Richard Davies, host of our Let’s Find Common Ground podcast, shares a personal memory of a trailblazing woman leader who made an impression on him early in his career: America’s first female Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

Ms. Albright, who passed away on March 23rd, was a child of Czech refugees who narrowly escaped Nazi troops and fled to the United States in 1948. A gifted student, Ms. Albright became a prominent analyst of world affairs and served as a counselor to President Jimmy Carter and numerous presidential candidates. Appointed to serve as Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton, she was committed to talking about foreign policy in human and bipartisan terms, realizing that building public support and understanding was vital to American democracy.

For young political reporter Richard Davies, meeting her on a press bus in 1984 during her time as top foreign policy advisor to presidential candidate Walter Mondale, Ms. Albright’s approach would leave a lasting impression.

“She was the opposite of most buttoned-up campaign advisors who would insist their remarks were on background only,” recalls Davies. “She was serious and highly intelligent, but also warm, witty and confident. I’ll never forget that bus ride.”

Hear more of Richard’s work on our podcast page, featuring conversations with today’s top thought leaders, journalists and more.

Katharine Hayhoe

Women’s History Month

Women’s History Month celebrates and acknowledges the women who have changed or marked history in some way. It is a time to honor women in the workforce and uplift the women at home and in our lives. In March, America celebrates how women have and continue to overcome the work to remove the obstacles that prevented them not just from voting but, more importantly, from reaching their full potential so that they could make a strong and positive difference for all Americans.

As part of this national celebration, Common Ground Committee would like to uplift women who have agreed to share their stories with us on ‘Let’s Find Common Ground,’ since last year’s Women’s History Month. If you want to see some of the influential and powerful women who have participated in our work up to that point, you can check out this blog post from last March. You can also listen to all podcast episodes here.

Tania Israel

 

Tania Israel, Depolarizing America

Tania Israel is a professor in the Department of Counseling, Clinical, and School Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Dr. Israel has facilitated educational programs and difficult dialogues about a range of topics, including abortion, law enforcement, religion, and sexual orientation.

 

Salena Zito

Salena Zito, Understanding Trump Voters, and American Populism

Salena Zito is a political journalist for the Washington Examiner and the New York Post. She is the co-author of The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics

Becky Pringle

 

Becky Pringle, Education Reimagined

Becky Pringle is president of the National Education Association. Before assuming NEA’s top post, she served as NEA vice president and before that as NEA secretary-treasurer. Pringle directed NEA’s work to combat institutional racism, and spotlight systemic patterns of racism and educational injustice that impact students.

 

Katharine Hayhoe

Katharine Hayhoe, A Climate Scientist Makes the Case for Hope

Katharine Hayhoe serves as Chief Scientist for The Nature Conservancy. She is the Endowed Professor in Public Policy and Public Law and Paul W. Horn Distinguished Professor at Texas Tech University. Hayhoe is the Climate Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance and has been named one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People,” Fortune’s “50 Greatest Leaders,” and Foreign Policy’s “100 Leading Global Thinkers.”

An easy way to begin honoring this month is by diving into the perspectives of powerful women and learning about their experiences. We’ve compiled a reading list for March, featuring bestselling memoirs, stories of resilience and social change, insightful picks for women in politics, and more.

 

Condoleezza Rice, A Memoir of My Extraordinary Ordinary Family and Me
By Condoleezza Rice

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: A Life
By: Jane Sherron de Hart

I Never Thought of It That Way: How to Have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times
By: Mónica Guzmán 

 

 

Becoming
By: Michelle Obama 

Spoken from The Heart
By: Laura Bush 

My Beloved World 
By: Sonia Sotomayor  

High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out 
By: Amanda Ripley

The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics
By: Salena Zito & Brad Todd

Saving Us: A Climate Scientist’s Case for Hope and Healing in a Divided World 
By: Katharine Hayhoe

Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide, Skills and Strategies for Conversations That Work
By: Tania Israel

WATCH: Bridge Builders in Congress

In this moment of rising inflation and global conflict, an emerging story offers reason for hope: the movement to heal political polarization in America is gaining fresh momentum.

And, signs show, it comes just in time.

Recent polling by Fox News showed that 78% of all respondents said they were “extremely” or “very” concerned about political divisions within the country, ranking the issue among their top three concerns. Other outlets, too, are hearing alarm from citizens across the political spectrum about polarization’s threat to democracy. And with trust in government near an all-time low, this polarization threatens America’s strength both domestically and overseas.

In response, a growing movement of community groups across the country are working to bridge the divides. As a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that is a prominent part of this movement, Common Ground Committee has been honored to highlight the work of elected officials who also recognize this troubling discord, and are undertaking the work of crafting bipartisan solutions.

Listen now: “Seeking Common Ground in Congress,” featuring Rep. Bryan Fitzpatrick (R) and Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D).

In a series of podcast and video interviews, we have explored approaches for breaking gridlock with legislators who are part of the Problem Solvers Caucus. This independent member-driven group in Congress is comprised of equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans who are committed to finding common ground on key issues facing the nation.

Two weeks ago, members of the Problem Solvers Caucus joined other legislators who support bipartisan solutions to put forward the Building Civic Bridges Act. Introduced by nine Republicans and nine Democrats, the bill aims to establish the federal government as a key partner in the deliberate effort to bridge divides and strengthen American democracy.

Listen now: “How Problem Solvers Caucus Attacks Gridlock in Congress,” featuring Rep. Don Bacon (R) and Rep. Kurt Schrader (D).

The legislation would empower communities to tackle sources of division through a new non-partisan pilot program, led by an Office of Civic Bridgebuilding within AmeriCorps, that would allocate competitive grants to civic and community organizations working to build relationships across lines of difference.

From interfaith groups working to build community understanding after attacks on religious institutions to local YMCAs partnering with conflict resolution experts and sponsoring community events, these community organizations are doing the on-the-ground work of building understanding across differences.

Backing their work is an entirely new way for Congress to look at improving bipartisanship and collaboration to help overcome deep ideological division across the country.

And, with the bill introduced just before President Biden’s first State of the Union address at which he introduced a Unity Agenda for the Nation with policy goals that enjoy broad bipartisan support, it’s a concept for which the time may have arrived at last.

“While it often appears that we never agree, that isn’t true,” Biden reminded the public, noting that he signed 80 bipartisan bills into law last year.

From sending emails or letters of gratitude to co-signers of the bill to asking your representatives to support these bipartisan efforts, we all have a chance to be part of the “healing polarization” wave that is building across the nation. We encourage Americans of all political persuasions to join in supporting this work.


Stay tuned for the next episode of our “Let’s Find Common Ground” podcast featuring Rep. Derek Kilmer (D) and Rep. William Timmons (R). As Chair and Vice-Chair of the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, they are the author and co-sponsor respectively of the Building Civic Bridges Act. If you haven’t already, subscribe now to be notified of upcoming episodes.

Ukraine Flag

A Note from our Co-Founders on Ukraine

Common Ground Committee condemns without condition the naked aggression Russian President Vladimir Putin is pursuing against the sovereign nation of Ukraine. Period. Unlike issues such as health care, immigration or taxes, where a deep divide is expected, Americans must repudiate Putin’s authoritarian tactics, and the world must know that we are united in our repudiation. And so we also condemn efforts to score political points in the debate over the U.S. response. This is the moment when we need to all stand together as one nation, regardless of party, and support efforts to help a free people remain free.

To be clear: That doesn’t mean we all need to be in lockstep agreement on how to proceed or the specifics of that response. We have already seen the United States and our European allies level unprecedented economic sanctions on Russia, an action favored by 67% of U.S. adults, including strong majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents. Hopefully that will be enough to restore peace in Eastern Europe but the impact is not clear and it appears unlikely even the most punishing sanctions will cause Putin to stop his invasion in the short term.

So there will continue to be debate about the best way to counter Putin. But in that debate we must avoid the trap of allowing the Russia-Ukraine problem to become a “left or right” issue, let alone one laced with personal attacks. As the world’s leading democratic power, we need to present a unified stance if we are going to stop the spread of authoritarianism, which is on the rise around the globe.

For some people that may be difficult. More than half of the country disapproves of President Biden’s job performance, but when it comes to stopping Putin’s aggression we need to set aside partisan grievances. There’s no room for over-the-top, politically motivated rhetoric when it comes to foiling Russian aggression – a lack of unified resolve only serves to weaken the U.S. on the global stage while enabling Putin’s worst instincts.

And finding common ground in defense of freedom really shouldn’t be that hard. More than 70% of Americans believe Russia poses a serious or somewhat serious threat to the United States. But we must also recognize and admit that sometimes the search for common ground needs to be set aside. Vladimir Putin has created just such a moment..

Finding common ground is almost always the best strategy to resolve differences. However, when the worst of human nature is the driving force in an adversary capable of inflicting enormous harm and upending the post-World War II world order – which is what we face here – then the conversation must be suspended and strong action must be taken. This does not require anyone to compromise their principles. Indeed, the values we share as Americans are at the heart of the deep and wide common ground we have found. As we debate the correct response to Putin’s actions, let us be willing to listen, collaborate and set aside political motivation. We can then find meaningful agreement while remaining true to our principles, and avoid the type of rhetoric that would send the wrong message to Putin and others who may be testing America’s resolve.

In fact, we believe that by doing this, our leaders will find new strength by rediscovering common ground that had been destroyed by partisan rhetoric. The Russia-Ukraine problem is a rare situation where the political tribes in our nation are fundamentally in agreement. We should use that strength to support our leaders and those of our allies as they pursue a solution to this very difficult challenge.

We have this shared sense of resolve because we all believe in democracy, even though we don’t always agree on how best to implement it. Our system is built on human dignity, civil rights, the rule of law, the right to protest and representative government. Putin denies his people such basic liberties and threatens to spread his brand of autocracy across Eastern Europe. We are already seeing signs of the unity necessary in this time of international conflict.

Look no further than the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has traditionally aligned itself more with conservatives.

“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a serious breach of international law, a violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, and an affront to our steadfast belief in a world where democratic countries, following the rule of law and the free enterprise system, can be free and prosper,” said President and CEO Suzanne Clark. “The business community will continue to support the Administration, Congress, and our allies to ensure a swift and meaningful response to Russia’s aggression.”

Democracy cannot prosper when an autocrat is permitted to invade another country and seize territory without cause or provocation. (We know critics will point to President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, but surely we can all agree that the Iraq war was never about a president’s ambition to build an empire.)

We need to put politics aside. Much is being written and said about polls that show three-quarters of Republicans and slightly more than half of independents disapprove of Biden’s handling of the conflict, even though he is doing what they want – imposing sanctions and vowing not to put American soldiers in harm’s way. But we must not allow our focus to be derailed by all-too-common political sniping. Neither we nor the world can afford to make internal disagreement with the president’s strategy the focus rather than the invasion.

In 1948, President Harry Truman and leading Republican Sen. Arthur Vandenberg agreed that partisan politics should stop “at the water’s edge,” announcing their intention to leave Cold War foreign policy out of partisan politics. Granted, they were not always successful, but we should live up to the ideal, not the implementation.

We are not advocating covering up healthy debate. We are imploring Americans to maintain perspective, stop demonizing, debate without political motivation, and continually refocus their thoughts and words on our united rejection of Putin’s aggression.

The situation in Ukraine is likely to change quickly and often, meaning a unified first approach may not be the final approach to battling authoritarianism. We need to be flexible and willing to compromise positions (but not principles) with those who seek resolution with good faith. That is the oldest American tradition, dating back to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Don’t let politics get in the way of our shared values, nor of the message the world needs to hear from us – that Americans of all parties, races, religions and lifestyles stand united against Vladimir Putin’s criminal and heinous pursuit of prestige and power.

Co-Founders

Bruce Bond and Erik Olsen

Caroline Randall Williams

Honoring Black History Month 2022

During the month of February, we celebrate the many accomplishments of Black Americans and look closely at the often-ignored impact of Black history in our nation. Since 1976, this month has meant a time for reflection and acknowledging the legacy of injustice perpetuated at the expense of Black lives. This year’s theme is, Black Health and Wellness, “[which] acknowledges the legacy of not only Black scholars and medical practitioners in Western medicine, but also other ways of knowing (e.g., birth workers, doulas, midwives, naturopaths, herbalists, etc.) throughout the African Diaspora.

This year, Common Ground Committee seeks to highlight influential Black leaders who have agreed to tell us their stories. Below you’ll find a list of those leaders and accompanying content we’re proud to produce and share:

Caroline Randall Williams

Caroline Randall Williams Caroline Randall Williams is an award-winning poet, young adult novelist, and cookbook author as well as an activist, public intellectual, performance artist, and scholar. She joined the faculty of Vanderbilt University in the Fall of 2019 as a Writer-in-Residence in Medicine, Health, and Society.

If you want to listen:

“I’m a living intersection of Black Southern narrative and white Southern narrative. I have to have common ground because I do come from both.”
–  Caroline Randall Williams

Daryl Davis

Daryl DavisDaryl Davis is an award-winning musician with a degree in Jazz. He was the first Black author to interview KKK leaders and members, detailed in his book, Klan-Destine Relationships. He is a race reconciliator and lecturer, has received numerous awards and is often sought out by news outlets as a consultant on race relations and white supremacy.

If you want to listen:

If you want to watch:

“Ignorance breeds fear. We fear the things that we don’t understand. If that fear is not addressed and resolved, that fear will escalate to hatred because we hate the things that frighten us.”
– Daryl Davis

Hawk Newsome

newsomeHawk Newsome is a political activist working at the forefront of the New Civil Rights Movement and the co-founder and chairperson of Black Lives Matter Greater New York. He is also a former candidate for the New York City Council and former Special Projects Coordinator at the Bronx County Office of the District Attorney.

If you want to listen:

“I would love to sit down with poor white folk in rural settings across America and talk to them about classism…and then we could sit back and come to the conclusion that it is the 1% and the people that they hire to represent them… I’m sorry, the government, who are keeping us pitted against each other.”

– Hawk Newsome

Dr. Brian Williams

dr williamsDr. Brian Williams is an Associate Professor of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery at the University of Chicago. He is a renowned keynote speaker, the Vice-Chair of the One America Movement, a guest opinion writer featured in the Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News, and hosts the podcast Race, Violence & Medicine. Back in 2016, Dr. Brian Williams led the trauma team that treated police officers ambushed by a sniper on July 7, 2016 – the largest loss of life for US law enforcement since 9/11.

If you want to listen:

“The lack of understanding of the history of policing in this country and how it has meant to isolate and control Black Americans…is a problem.”

– Brian Williams, MD.

Professor Ilyasah Shabazz

Professor ShabazzProfessor Ilyasah Shabazz is an author, artist, mentor, and implementer of cultural and community outreach initiatives, serving diverse populations. She promotes higher education for at-risk youth, interfaith dialogue to build bridges between cultures for young leaders of the world, and participates in international humanitarian delegations. She is the daughter of Dr. Betty Shabazz and Malcolm X.

If you want to listen:

“If we’re taught hate, we’re never going to solve any problems.”

– Professor Ilyasah Shabazz

Sheriff Errol D. Toulon, Jr.

shreiff toulonSheriff Errol D. Toulon, Jr. is the 67th Sheriff of Suffolk County, New York and is the first Black American to be elected to a non-judicial countywide office. He has more than 30 years of criminal-justice experience centered upon corrections intelligence and combating gang violence. Prior to serving as Suffolk County Sheriff, he worked for the New York City Department of Correction.

If you want to listen:

 “When I realized that I was going to win [the election for Sheriff], several people informed me that I’m not only the first African-American to be elected to Sheriff but the first African-American to be elected to a county-wide position in Nassau or Suffolk county…history.”

– Sheriff Toulon

Donna Brazile

brazileDonna Brazile is an adjunct professor, author, syndicated columnist, television political commentator, Vice Chair of Voter Registration and Participation at the Democratic National Committee, and former interim National Chair of the Democratic National Committee as well as the former chair of the DNC’s Voting Rights Institute.

If you want to listen:

If you want to watch:

 “We have to get to a place where we can foster civility in our conversation.”

– Donna Brazile

Maya Wiley

maya wileyMaya Wiley is a former candidate for New York City mayor. She is a nationally renowned expert on racial justice and equity. She has litigated, lobbied the U.S. Congress, and developed programs to transform structural racism in the U.S. and in South Africa. She previously served as the Senior Vice President for Social Justice at the New School University and the Henry Cohen Professor of Public and Urban Policy at The New School’s Milano School of Management, Policy & Environment.

If you want to listen:

“We do live in a violent society. That is a violent society born out of slavery and racism and genocide against Native Americans. In the context of today, the violence that we’re seeing in communities of color are absolutely driving a policing focused on containment and control of entire communities because of the color of the skin of the people who live there.”

– Maya Wiley

Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice Condoleezza Rice is an American diplomat, political scientist, civil servant, and professor. She is currently the Denning Professor in Global Business and the Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. From 2005 to 2009, she served as the 66th Secretary of State of the United States, the first Black woman to have held this post.

If you want to watch:

“When you are in the business, as an individual citizen, of helping other individual citizens, that is actually the highest form of democracy.”

– Condoleezza Rice

Michael Steele

steeleMichael Steele is an author, political commentator, and attorney. Steele made history when he was the first Black American to be elected as the seventh lieutenant governor of Maryland. In 2009, he was chosen to serve as the Republican National Committee chairperson. He is currently a political analyst for MSNBC and his writings on law, business and politics have appeared in The Wall Street JournalThe Washington TimesPolitico.com, and The Journal of International Security Affairs, among others.

If you want to listen:

If you want to watch:

“While the civil rights march continues and while there’s been a lot of ground covered, there are a whole lot of folks who got off that road or never got on that road who are still teaching that bad behavior to the next generation.”

– Michael Steele

Common Ground Committee is committed to providing tools to encourage productive conversations on today’s key issues. Visit our portal, Bridging Racial Divides where you can find a custom news feed on the latest stories about racial issues in America, and an array of video, blog, and podcast content. We hope that hearing from and watching these prominent guests gives you the courage to tackle difficult interactions with others. Going forward, our team plans to continue amplifying the voices of Black Americans standing up and fighting against hate in the nation.

fake news

An Introduction to Fake News

Fake news is often cited as a key driver of polarization in the U.S.  But what exactly does it mean when people cry “fake news?” The following post, which is part one of a series, digs deeper to help you navigate an increasingly confusing array of information. 

So, what is fake news?  It is a term used by both sides of the political spectrum to cast doubt on information being presented as fact, ranging from a biased and disparaging version of events to more technologically complex deep fakes, a science of falsifying images and audio to make something that never happened appear real. 

Cornell defines fake news as “fabricated information that mimics news media content in form but not in organizational process or intent. Fake news outlets, in turn, lack the news media’s editorial norms and processes for ensuring the accuracy and credibility of information. Fake news overlaps with other information disorders, such as misinformation (false or misleading information) and disinformation (false information that is purposely spread to deceive people).” 

Fake news is a significant contributing factor in the increasing spread of polarization in the US. But when we refer to “fake news,” what exactly do we mean?  

What is fake news? 

In very general terms, fake news can be defined as false or misleading information presented as news. That said, by digging a little deeper you can find more than one definition. According to this white paper published by Simmons University and The Institute of Museum and Library Services, fake news has traditionally been “limited to falsified news stories… fake news outlets that present themselves as legitimate, often by mirroring real news outlets and even adopting names and URLs that integrate parts of the real outlet.”  

However, as times change so has the real scope of fake news. Fake news can now be broken down into two categories: misinformation and disinformation. Misinformation is defined as inaccurate information that is generated without the intention to deceive; whereas disinformation (or propaganda) is defined as false or misleading information constructed knowingly and disseminated with intent to deceive. 

Perhaps the most insidious is the deep fakes, which take advantage of a machine learning technique called a “generative adversarial network,” or a GAN, invented in 2014 as a way to algorithmically generate new types of data out of existing data sets. A GAN can look at thousands of photos and then produce a new one that is like an amalgamation of those photos, like an entirely new image of a politician. The multi-use technology can also be used to generate new audio from existing audio, making it seem as if a public figure has said or done something they never did. 

The Impact of social media 

Misinformation and disinformation are not new by any means, but with the introduction of social media, the pace of viewing and sharing has increased exponentially. We are now exposed to this false information daily, and in a time of increasingly sophisticated technology, it can be hard to differentiate between legitimate news, distortions, and outright fabrications. Often this falsified information garners inflammatory responses from both sides of the aisle (and all sectors of the population) and can influence decision-making.  

Who is responsible for fake news? 

The short and simple answer is — anyone who has the means and motivation to create and post mis- or disinformation. As the movement away from local news continues, a new market for entertainment news is expanding. This confluence of events has opened the market for unreliable news sources and social media has given it a platform to thrive. These days, fake news can be spread by big players with large social media followings (e.g., celebrities, politicians, influencers, etc.), and social media algorithms reward more inflammatory posts by cycling them more frequently and prominently.  

But it’s not just the big players who are responsible for spreading fake news. Anyone can be responsible for the spread of illegitimate news and posts, and everyone who hits “share” or “send” on social media platforms contributes to the whiplash.  

What makes matters so difficult is determining the difference between the gradations of fakery. Snopes.com has been dedicated to debunking outright false viral claims since the 90s. But these days, we’re dealing with new levels of falsehoods.  

“The fictions and fabrications that comprise fake news are but a subset of the larger bad news phenomenon,” Snopes founder David Mikkelson wrote on his site last November, “which also encompasses many forms of shoddy, unresearched, error-filled, and deliberately misleading reporting that do a disservice to everyone.”

In our next post on this topic, we will dive into how to spot the difference between falsehoods, which in the early days of Snopes were nicknamed urban myths, and bad news.  

Until then, you can learn more about the media’s role in moving forward through information and misinformation by watching our fascinating 2020 conversation with Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace and New York Times correspondent Maggie Haberman, in partnership with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. 

View the event as well as highlight videos: Wallace & Maggie Haberman Talk Fake News & The Media (commongroundcommittee.org) 

Reading business news

The Business Case for Civics Education

It’s no secret that polemics and partisanship have run amok in recent years. The factions within the government have trouble collaborating, creating bottlenecks that keep things from getting done. People fight online via social media. People clash in the streets in protests. People argue on-air on cable news panels. Sometimes it seems as if people have forgotten how to disagree without fighting. Are there any pockets of public spaces that haven’t been examined for potential to foster understanding and civility?

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has an answer: the workplace. Two years ago, the Foundation published a white paper on the eroding civility of discourse, the general lack of understanding about civics, and the connection between the two. And while the paper was published in 2019, the findings don’t seem dated by all that has happened. They seem all the truer.

Employers are uniquely positioned to help ensure that the next generation of Americans are equipped to play a productive role in civic life, writes U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation President Carolyn Cawley in the introduction to “The Business Case for Civics Education.” Business leaders can bring a powerful voice to this discussion by sharing knowledge and prioritizing civic education of all forms in communities across the nation. This report is the first step in our efforts to make the business case for civics.

Through a combination of surveys and interviews with company leaders, the Foundation—in concert with Harvard Business School—examined the civility and civic sensibility of the workplace today. The motivation was to investigate the role that businesses can play in healing a divided country. The goal was to figure out how and demonstrate why it makes good business sense.

When it comes to talking about divisiveness in our country, business isn’t really a part of the discussions, either as a source of supporter or an avenue to improvement. “And that seemed like both a missed opportunity for interested organizations like ours,” Cawley recalls.

An interesting note of optimism stands out among the data immediately. In its annual Civility in America survey, Weber Shandwick found that 68 percent of Americans felt there was a civility problem in the nation. But some 89 percent of the respondents called their places of employment very or somewhat civil, even a refuge. And perhaps they need to be; this is the one place where all races, religions, and ages congregate and need to get along for a common goal.

“I think this is a really interesting point. The workplace might be one of the last places where people come together from all views and backgrounds and identities because, in almost all the other places in our lives, people have tended to pigeonhole into communities that look like them, think like them,” said Cawley. “And those places are not going to work smoothly and productively if you have cancel-culture and other polarizing elements creeping into the workplace.”

But it’s not just a matter of what workplaces shouldn’t be. It’s what they could be. Companies could be leaders in helping employees better understand—and value—what it means to be engaged as a civic-minded citizen.

The health of civics education is “quite bleak,” Cawley said in the introduction to the paper. Research by Educating for American Democracy found that the federal government spends an average of $50 per student on STEM curriculum, compared to five cents per student on civic education. The findings led the foundation to launch a public relations campaign aimed at convincing corporations that supporting civics education was not only their civic responsibility but in their own best interest.

In many workplaces, it’s already being done. Paid days off to vote, or to fulfill jury duty. Some companies encourage time off for community service or volunteering at the polls. There could be employee resource groups or town-hall-style meetings, Cawley suggests, to provide information and context behind the basics of civic engagement and why it matters. “Communicate how important it is to be an engaged citizen, that it’s our obligation as citizens to make this whole thing work,” she said. “It’s not telling people what to think, or how to vote, but to be involved — that we aren’t going to be successful as a country if you don’t understand how this all works.”

And how does civic education play a role in rebuilding that trust, engagement, and strengthening our democracy? Civic educational programs can help reduce polarization, increase community volunteerism, and foster civil conversations around diverging viewpoints. Allstate, for one, developed an employee program called The Better Arguments Project, which with the Aspen Institute, helps people develop the tools to have better, more civil arguments. Sounds a lot like helping its employees bolster the critical skills of emotional intelligence.

With the support and buy-in of the private sector, the foundation believes, the country stands a better chance at healing the tenor of disagreements, distrust, and misinformation that are undermining the wellness of the country.

“We need to be much more self-aware and collaborative,” says Cawley. “We have democracy and capitalism, and civics is where the two meet. It’s a three-legged stool. They have to work together.”

Visit Commongroundcommittee.org to learn about critical issues, how to create positive change and restore hope. 

Bruce Bond on Polarization

Bruce Bond on Business Brief: The Economic Impact of Polarization

Political polarization is creating instability in business. Can we hope for a less divided future?

In this video segment, our co-founder Bruce Bond joins Andy Hirschfeld, host of the daily news show Business Brief, to speak about the impact of political polarization on the economy and brands. He also discusses how Common Ground Committee is pushing back on polarization in America through tools like the Common Ground Scorecard, and how such action can help address economic instability.

Watch the interview to learn more about how companies are reacting and responding to this issue, where we see hope for the future, and how to find inspiration and tools to help heal the nation.

common ground around the dinner table

Your Essential Guide to Civil Political Conversations This Holiday Season

thanksgiving dinner

Around many dining tables this holiday season, there’ll be an extra guest in the room. The elephant, of course. Politics, and all the differing opinions about the tumultuous events of the past year.

We live in divisive times, and unfortunately, our difficulty reaching across the aisle can extend to reaching across the table. Whether or not your gatherings this year include extended relatives, conversations, even among immediate siblings, parents, and significant others, can cover a lot of rocky terrain over a long day and evening.

This year might seem a lot more fraught than most. But the same guidelines for civil conversations apply, even leaving room for constructive disagreement. Let’s have a look at the attributes of folks who seek to meet on common ground, rather than simmer in the far corners of the room.

Tap into the power of listening.

The importance of listening in productive dialogue should not be underestimated. It’s through active listening that both parties feel heard and validated, which in turn enriches conversation and cuts unnecessary tension. Listening first this holiday season can help you make connections, find empathy, and put you in a better position for meaningful discussions around the dinner table. Without listening, it can be easy to get stuck in arguments and never reach common ground. In order to save more time for food and merriment, consider using the power of listening when engaging with family and friends this year.

Commit to seeking agreement rather than “winning.”

It’s difficult to achieve a balanced conversation based on connecting with someone if you’re constantly formulating your next retort. You have to actively listen to their points, rather than crafting your own retaliation. You never know — you might even find yourself swayed a bit by their insights. You don’t have to aim to end the night by winning or losing and certainly not by compromising your principles. You just have to get to a civil place where you can agree to disagree and pass the cranberry sauce with a pleasant expression.

Remember it’s possible for good people to disagree.

We all have very different backgrounds that make us who we are, and have shaped the principles we hold firm. But different values and beliefs aren’t synonymous with good and bad. Very different formative experiences can create strong, fundamental differences. If you sense you aren’t going to be able to meet amicably in the middle with this person, perhaps it’s best to find a pivot to another aspect of the conversation.

Use facts, not emotion.

Emotional arguments aren’t a great basis for a conversation, because if both people are speaking from the heart in heated opposition, it’s hard to arrive at the conclusion that it’s possible for good people to disagree. If you have good facts, figures, and statistics, open your toolbox and use them. But let the other person do the same — and if theirs are solid, acknowledge that, even if it doesn’t fit well with your narrative.

Bring down the temperature.

If you find the conversation becoming too heated, do whatever you can to de-escalate a potentially hostile situation. Name-calling and tossing around stereotypes are indicators that things are traveling in the wrong direction. Don’t give in to the temptation to reciprocate with pejorative terms of your own. Storytelling is one way to grab attention — just make sure the takeaway is one of neutrality, or learning something unexpected. And remember – family is always more important than politics.

 Want more tips on healing the divide over Thanksgiving or any gathering? Watch our webinar Ten Ways to Heal the Divide,” with Living Room Conversations founder Joan Blades and founder of Bridge USA, Manu Meel, moderated by Common Ground Committee co-founder, Bruce Bond.

Get ready for the holiday season by downloading Common Ground Committee’s “Essential Guide to Better Political Conversations this Holiday Season.”