A quote generally attributed to former Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan says “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” Unfortunately, many popular websites used as sources to back up false claims and pseudoscience never got this memo and gleefully make up their own facts, which have little to do with what’s actually happening.
Here’s a guide to some of the sources that you’ll see used as backup for pro-conspiracy stories. Some are fairly legitimate looking, and others are literally nothing more than some crazy person’s blog. But sadly, all of them are popular enough to influence public opinion, garnering thousands of Facebook shares and spewing their nonsense all over the world. Think of this as a field guide to spotting the worst of the worst, with an emphasis on newer and more recently popular sites. And please note that this is by no means a complete list of junk sources. To catalogue each and every one would be impossible.
Infowars/Prison Planet: This is probably ground zero of the modern conspiracy movement, acting as a town square for people who think the government is going to wipe them out. Besides a live stream and archive of Jones’ radio show, Infowars/Prison Planet (there’s no difference between them) is a grab bag of links, opinion, ads and goofiness. It features a message board, collections of conspiracy-driven news articles from outside sources (some mainstream and some fringe) and original pieces about tyranny, surveillance and things the government “isn’t telling you.”
Many of the links you’ll see to Infowars/Prison Planet are just their version of a legitimate news story. So you don’t want to dismiss something just because it came from here, but a quick look at where the link originates is about all the due diligence you need.
Sample news articles: “Autonomous Terminator Like Robots will Decide Your Fate”, “Evidence of Time Travelers on the Internet” and “Nuclear Seafood?”
Natural News: In the Skeptoid episode “Top 10 Worst Anti-Science Websites,” Brian named Natural News as the worst offender, so I’ll just quote what he wrote:
When Natural News began, it was basically the blog and sales portal of anti-pharmaceutical activist Mike Adams. His basic premise has always been the Big Pharma conspiracy, the idea that the medical industry secretly wants to keep everyone sick, and conspires with the food industry to make people unhealthy, all driven by a massive plot of greed to sell poisonous medicines. Adams appears to have become a protégé of Alex Jones, for he now writes on Natural News at least as many police state conspiracy articles as he does anti-science based medicine articles.
If someone is pushing a scientifically dubious theory about anything from GMO’s to vaccines, chances are it can be traced back to Natural News. And it has lots of ads.
Sample “news” articles: “Aspartame Exposed – Created with Genetically Modified-Bacteria,” “Chinese hepatitis B vaccinations claim the life of a 12th infant victim” and “Historic deep freeze across North America conclusively proves global warming is getting worse, right?”
Above Top Secret/Before It’s News: Both of these sites function as news aggregators for stories related to conspiracies, UFO’s, the paranormal, government shenanigans and pretty much anything “alternative.” There’s not much of a difference between the two, other than layout. They’re huge collections of links to outside sources, most of them highly suspect, with a small amount of original material thrown in. And lots of ads.
Sample “news” articles: “EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: ECETI’s James Gilliland on Aliens and Predictions for 2014,” “HAARP Deep Freeze Attack Upon America” and “Billionaires Dumping Stocks, Economist Knows Why”
RT: We’ve now moved down a level, going from link farms to news sources themselves. And probably the most legitimate-sounding of all mainstream junk news sites is RT, the channel formerly known as Russia Today. Founded in 2005, RT is the state-owned mouthpiece of the Vladimir Putin administration, a 24-hour news channel and news website designed to burnish Russia’s image around the world and take that nasty West down a few pegs. So while it presents itself as a competitor to the BBC (and very nearly is, in terms of ratings and reach), its content is more of a mixture of Fox News, Stalinist propaganda, Infowars and your crazy racist uncle.
Make no mistake, while it might look legitimate and have well-known news personalities working for it (Larry King!), RT is an abysmal source of impartial information. It’s anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-science, anti-gay, pro-conspiracy and not super into human rights. The site’s reporting on the Fukushima disaster has been especially appalling, churning up panic where none is necessary, almost certainly in support of Russian oil exports. RT is best avoided, and anything it reports should be considered highly dubious.
Sample “news” articles: “Obama 2013: How Low Can You Go,” “U.S. biggest threat to world peace” and “130 ‘radioactive’ Japanese cars banned from entering Russia”
ENEnews.com: Habitual Skeptoid Blog readers (hi, Dad!) know I’ve done a lot of writing on the scaremongering related to Fukushima. And a primary source of many of the claims I’ve tried to debunk is a site called ENEnews. While most link farms are all over the place in terms of content, ENEnews is basically all Fukushima all the time. Of its 22 current top stories, 21 are Fukushima-related – mostly vague and scary claims attributed to “scientists” or “officials.”
Since its founding shortly after the 3/11 earthquake, it’s become a primary source for the alternative media version of events, relentlessly pushing the idea that Japan, the US, nuclear power shills and the mainstream media have conspired to keep the “truth” about Fukushima from us. ENEnews seems willing to make up or exaggerate pretty much any claim in the service making you think toxic radiation is killing the Pacific Ocean, frying the west coast and on the verge of wiping out humanity. None of which is supported by reputable science. A link to ENEnews is a link to bad science.
Sample “news” articles: “Gov’t, scientists ‘baffled’ over white spots on cows around Fukushima,” “Official detects radiation spike on California beach, now at 500% normal levels” and “Russian Experts: Fukushima pollution spreads all over Earth, clearly a large amount of fish, seaweeds, and everything in ocean has been polluted”
Globalresearch.ca/Washington’s Blog/Zero Hedge/The Economic Collapse Blog/Activist Post/The Daily Sheeple/WhatDoesItMean.com/etc.: These are just some of the many, many dubious blogs and news aggregators devoted to overthrowing our capitalist slave masters through gold, legal weed, hoarding food and guns and reading the Bible. If the Occupy Wall Street movement had an official website, it would probably look something like one of these, full of long, rambling stories and lists about a variety of horrors. These include our Constitutional Freedoms being stripped away, the tyrannical surveillance state, the evils of big business, the upcoming economic collapse (which has been happening any day now for years) and police state slavery arriving at the feet of an army of drones.
If you think taxation is theft, the media is lying to you, Big Pharma is poisoning you and Bolshevist Jew Marxist Muslims are going to kick down your door and take away your vitamins, you probably heard about it here. And chances are they made it up. There are many, many blogs like this – a loose conglomeration of nonsense known as the “clogosphere.” They link to each other, and often repost the same content. Some sites are more prepper oriented, some more conspiracy oriented, some more Christian oriented and some just living on their own planet. None of them are reliable as un-biased news sources – or as anything other than entertainment, really.
Sample “news” articles: “11 Nasty Trends That Will Test America’s Resilience,” “28 Signs That The West Coast Is Being Absolutely Fried With Nuclear Radiation From Fukushima,” “How Will The Economy Improve In 2014 If Almost Everyone Has Less Money To Spend?” and “Have Americans Lost ALL of Our Constitutional Rights?”
So that’s a quick look at some of the many sources that the enemies of skepticism get their information from. I’m sure in the time it took to write and read this, more popped up. I’ll get to them next time.