Drinking game: watch the video below of Denzel Washington at a screening of his new movie, Fences, and drink every time he drops serious wisdom. You'll be drunk in 56 seconds. It happens fast, so pour the drinks ahead of time.
Outside the theater, a Washington Post reporter asked the actor about recent fake news reporting that he switched his vote from Clinton to the other guy. I don't think she was at all expecting the response that flew out of Denzel Washington's mouth like words from a mystical sage.
Before she even finishes the question, the wisdom is flying: "If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you do read it, you're misinformed." (Drink. Actually, drink twice to that amazing statement.)
Such concise, elegant language completely stumps the reporter. "Hmmm…" she says, "What do you do?"
"That's a great question," replies the actor currently describing one of journalism's greatest modern problems to a journalist. "What is the long term effect of too much information?" (Drink.)
That is the question facing journalists and readers and it has been for some time. The general idea for years now has been that social media and instant online news is probably detrimental because it's an overload of information. It's also the best platform for communication and interaction to develop since the telephone. And it's impossible to even guess at the long term effects because it's all so new.
Except that we're already seeing one consequence.
"One of the effects is the need to be first, not even to be true anymore," proclaims Washington. (Drink.) That's become apparent with the ability of lies and ferocious rumors to worm their way into news aggregators like Facebook's Trending feed and Twitter's trending topics. Without even speaking about the election, specifically, false reports of deaths and other lies spread through the channels of social media many times a year. It's only now that we're possibly seeing the real-life threat this poses.
"So what a responsibility you all have," Washington continues, motioning with his astute eyes at the semicircle of reporters facing him. "To tell the truth; not just to be first." (Drink twice, again, for that one.)
Basically, Denzel Washington just told a bunch of reporters and journalists to sit cross-legged in front of him in his red-carpet classroom and listen to a lesson on how to do their job. And he's right about everything. Fake news writers' priority is spreading like a virus: "We don't care who it hurts, we don't care who we destroy, we don't care if it's true. Just say it, sell it." (Drink for "say it, sell it.")
The celebrated actor, who knows something about practice, drops a final piece of wisdom: "Anything you practice, you'll get good at. Including B.S." (Drink.)
It's true, many of the false stories that pop up on social media look as authentic as anything CNN or MSN post. Like Photoshop's creation of impossible body standards, false news stories' seeming authenticity is what makes them dangerous. Journalists and tech companies cannot let the problem reach the point where it's impossible to tell the difference between truth and fiction in the news.
The problem is that "real news" is acting badly, too. Here's a headline from CNN, yesterday:
No, CNN, "fake news" is not some newfangled youth slang that the news media has to put in quotes until the older population learns how to use it properly in a sentence. It's a common adjective followed by a common noun, a grammatical combination used countless times a day in most languages. You, CNN, are actually a "news" company, so you should be aware that "news" is a word. Fake news is a real problem and not just your next keyword. But "real news" is failing its readers, too. Stop making everything a hashtag. (Confession: I used "fake news" as a tag for this article, but that's an unavoidable part of online publishing and not an endorsement of the phrase as a keyword.)
More than ever, writers have a responsibility to distribute accurate and important information. And readers have an equally important responsibility: with technology that makes it easy to filter news to your tastes, it becomes essential to read diversely and cross-check claims with other news sources. Trust in the news is a romantic idea. It takes work by both writers and readers to share factual stories.
At PopDust, our priority is writing the truth, not being the first to write a lie.
Truth comes first. And first comes second. I mean, first truth, then first. Truth first, first last. Um…
You know what I mean.