Editor’s note: Investor and entrepreneur David Gardner is the founder of Cofounders Capital in Cary and is a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire.

CARY – A friend from high school that I haven’t seen in decades messaged me on Facebook this week asking me to share some factual information he had obviously received from someone else.  If I’d just share his post with twenty other people and they shared with twenty more and so forth, then over ten million people could have this information by the end of the week.

I like to help people out if I can when they ask me to do something.  The only problem I could see with this was that there were absolutely no facts in the “factual” information I was being asked to propagate.   Some of what was there had been repeatedly debunked by very credible sources.   I even referenced a couple of fact-checking sites to be certain before I messaged back to my old high school buddy saying that in good conscience, I would not be able to comply with his request.


Social Media juggernauts like Facebook and Twitter have been in the news a lot lately and for good reasons.  Shouldn’t someone do something about all of the hate speech, fake news, misleading ads, harmful medical remedies, etc. that are taking over and often drowning out credible sources and real science on the internet?

Why is there so much false information on the internet?

First of all, fake news, like fake scientific claims, are really easy to create.   You just sit there and make it up.  No investigative journalism necessary.    No research, no finding second source corroboration, no fact checking, clinical trials or expensive studies required.

Second of all, why waste all that time and money to publish factual news or research when much of the time, your audience doesn’t really care that much about whether your information is the truth?  They just want something that supports views they already hold or things they want to believe.

I applaud Twitter’s recent bold move into implementing some fact checking but I also totally get why most big social media platforms are pushing back on any legal requirement to fact-check or filter their users’ content.   Their defense has been to plead freedom of speech and other lofty ideals but the real bottom line is that a huge part of their customer base simply does not want this.   Truth is not nearly as important to these customers as their political, financial or ideological goals.   In short, America does not have a social media problem nearly as much as it has an integrity problem.

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Unfortunately, this trend did not go unnoticed by our country’s adversaries.  Every US government agency (except the White House) including the CIA and FBI have concluded that some foreign governments go to great lengths to flood our social media with fake news and mistruths in an attempt to create division and to weaken our county’s solidarity and international influence.  Our real enemies want us to focus only on winning each other over to a particular point of view by any means necessary.   They know that no country can remain great for very long when it abandons its commitment to truth and the scientific method.  They know that when Americans entrench on their individual positions, stop seeking out diverse opinions and stop relentlessly demanding the truth regardless of where that truth may lead them, then we have forsaken the very principles that bind us together as Americans.

I hold real news agencies and investigative journalists in very high regard.   They often risk life and limb in dangerous places, dealing with dangerous facts that powerful forces may not want to become public information.  They truly are public guardians relentlessly committed to uncovering the truth regardless of the time or risk involved.   The creators of fake news and fake facts are an abomination to this sacred calling.   They undermine its credibility and destroy its power for good as do those who claim that real news and real science are fake simply because those inconvenient facts don’t support their personal agendas.

There is another reason why truth is becoming an endangered species on the internet.  Unfortunately, false science, mistruths and fake news are much more profitable content than their factual counterparts.  Companies that create and circulate real news are good corporate citizens who consciously choose to subordinate profits in order to payroll the time consuming and expensive process of research and fact gathering.  These companies are rewarded over time with reputation and credibility by the decerning public.  They become trusted sources for us, but what will happen when fake facts and fake news become so popular that it becomes impossible for the providers of real news to be financially viable?

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Most social media giants have strategically and carefully avoided this predicament.   As long as they can continue to position themselves as merely a medium for all information regardless of its source or validity then they can claim that they have no obligation to the truth whatsoever.   This thesis does not make you a great corporate citizen but it is a very good strategy for maximizing your usage and profits.

This positioning, however, did not work so well for early e-commerce companies specializing in transactions financed exclusively via cryptocurrencies.  Similarly, they argued that they were a financial exchange medium only and had no obligation whatsoever to the types of transactions their customers were conducting.  The US justice system eventually decided that these sites were enabling transactions such as the purchase of drugs and prostitution and therefore had to be shut down or regulated for the “good of the public”.

Just like freedom of religion, freedom of speech is considered a fundamental right of all Americans.   Americans certainly know their rights but sometimes we forget that with great freedom comes great responsibility.  I am a big fan of the expression, “Be the change”.   Most of us have little sway over government or mega tech company decision making but we do have complete control over our own actions.   Before posting, reposting, or even liking a social media post or video, take a moment and ask yourself if you are uncompromisingly committed to the truth.  Take a moment to fact-check.  Read the original comment to see if it was taken out of context.   Consider the credibility and credentials of the source.  Just as social distancing and the use of facemasks can slow the spread of a pandemic, conscientious Americans with an unrelenting insistence on the truth can slow the spread of mistruths, false science and fake news and perhaps even one day seriously detour these cancers that are eating away at the fabric of our nation.