Erik Van Alstine

Erik Van Alstine

Author. Leadership strategist. Expert in Perceptual IntelligenceTM.

In a sense, its all “fake news.”

“Fake News” is all the rage. Wired contributor Henri Gendreau sums it up in a recent article.

  • October 12, 2016, the Washington Post reports, “Facebook has repeatedly trended fake news since firing its human editors.” Fortune and Vanity Fair pick up the story.
  • A week later, Buzzfeed reports, “Hyperpartisan Facebook Pages Are Publishing False and Misleading Information At An Alarming Rate.” The false stories get many more shares, likes and comments than true stories.
  • The Pew Research Center surveys show that 62% of Americans get their news on social media.
  • On December 4 a man walks into a Washington pizzeria and opens fire. The reason? Hoax stories about Hillary Clinton’s involvement in a child sex ring that operates from the pizzeria.

Fake news is an interesting social phenomenon, but I see another type of fakery that’s inextricably bound up into mass media itself, something that the media can never overcome. We must understand this fakery and resist the lie that lives in every shocking headline.

The lie is that the world is as bad as media makes it seem. When news media reports about tragic events, shocking and terrifying things, the implication is, “the world is a dangerous place and this can happen to you.”

This is complete fakery. A big lie.

The truth is,

If you see something bad on the news, rest assured, it won’t happen to you. Ever.

In a world of seven billion people, there’s a minuscule chance that something bad is going to happen to someone like the news reports say, because media report on extremely rare events. Since they’re extremely rare, they’re extremely unlikely to happen to you. You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than having an experience that’s similar to the stuff news reports.

Here are some headlines:

Someone read my article yesterday and replied, “People get into car accidents all the time, just like they report on the news. So your statement that ‘it won’t happen to you, ever,’ is inaccurate.”

Ahh, good point.

But is it true? Let’s look at the car crash issue more carefully. Media doesn’t report on fender benders, spinouts, and bashups. These crashes aren’t spectacular enough to get our attention because they happen too often. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says there are 5.4 million of these crashes in America per year.

But even these seemingly common incidents are still extremely unlikely to happen to you. On any given day, there’s is a one-in-6500 chance you might get into a car accident.

I’d never take a bet on odds like that.

That means every 17.9 years, the average American gets into an accident. Not a fatal accident. A fender bender. That’s not newsworthy. It’s got to be rare and spectacular to be newsworthy. If you see something about a car crash in the media, it’s about a traffic fatality, or a mass pileup, or someone driving off a cliff. It’s always something bigger than a basic traffic accident.

Which brings me back to Scottish musician Al Stewart’s statement: I know there’s a big bad world out there, but I rarely come across it. My comment back to Al would take it a little further: I know there isn’t a big bad world out there. Big bad experiences are extremely rare. 

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