Posted by David Oates 4 months, 2 weeks ago

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I used to go bat crap crazy about how people could ignore the truth and replace it with whatever story supported their preconceived notions on a particular matter or individual. That was until this week and courtesy of a trip to the Midwest.

I was sitting with some folks when the teenage boy at the table started to talk about some cool things he’d like to do in his life. Storm Chasing stood out at the top of his list. Understandably, his mother immediately responded with “And you will die doing it.”

“Wow,” I thought. Within mere seconds, the woman declared an activity hundreds - if not thousands - of individuals partake on an annual basis held an absolute certainty of death. Not true at all. In fact, USA TODAY ran a recent story about how rare such fatalities are, with most being caused by car accidents rather than the tornados themselves. When I pressed her to that point, she conceded, but that didn’t sway her at all from lecturing her son with newly-found Evil Kenieval tendencies to not jump in a specially modified, four-wheel drive and head toward the nearest tornado alley. Nothing — not even cold, hard reality — would make the mother change her outlook on the idea of her son chasing anything stronger than a light drizzle.

At that point, I experienced my “ah-hah” moment about fake news. Those that perpetuate this type of falsehood, like any other variant, does not necessarily do so for malicious, boastful or diabolical purposes. While some launch for this reason, perhaps much more come about from a different point of view.

Fear.

Look at any these as recent examples. Obama’s supposed African birth and Muslim faith, CNN's report on Congressional investigations against a Russian investment fund with ties to Trump officials, stories of widespread voter fraud in the recent presidential election, all bogus. They hold one thing in common. If these stories bore any truth, it would scare the bejesus out of us.

Panic-prone readers will respond to these dubious claims by those who purport them because they share the same paranoia. Countering with facts alone does little good to squelch hysteria. Also, express how reality offers opportunity and prosperity to those who take into account the truth of the matter. Refute the heightened anxiety with calm and, wherever possible, a bit of humor. Defuse the incendiary talk with hope. When you do, you’ll get a better response and, ultimately, more folks on your site.

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