The Heathen (Fake) News Cycle

The ignorant booby had best be silent
When he moves among other men,
No one will know what a nit-wit he is
Until he begins to talk;
No one knows less what a nit-wit he is
Than the man who talks too much.

~ Havamal

Recently, a Heathen website posted an article stating that the Asatru Folk Assembly is under investigation by Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) as being a hate group. This report spread like wildfire across the Heathen internet. This lead to other rumors circulating, including that AFA members were banned from certain events, AFA members would be kicked out of the military, and that AFA chaplains would lose access to military bases.  The constant churning of social media took what was already just hearsay and turned it into a certain and finite event.

I am ashamed to admit I bought in to this rumor, after hearing it from a trusted friend. However, as of this writing, there is not a single other source for this information other than the original website. There has not been a publication by the US Military, and the AFA has not come out on their official site or their Facebook and issued any public statement. Major Pagan news outlets like The Wild Hunt have had zero coverage.

This story has taken on a life of its own beyond the initial website because true or not, it touches a nerve. It places both sides in a position where this post appeals to feelings. For those who dislike the AFA, they feel vindicated that a group they see as hateful is losing power. For those who support the AFA, this is proof of their belief that society is too “politically correct” and they are being persecuted for their beliefs.

In modern society, we all often struggle to differentiate “fake news” from reality. There is a great deal of pressure from content providers to make money. Most of this income is from what are called “impressions” or how many times an advertisement is seen. Most companies pay in what is known as PPM or per 1000 impressions. The more eyes that are on your website, the more money you make.

When there is a need to create fresh content to drive those views, journalism can fall by the wayside. Rumor is all many websites need to take a piece of information and turn it into an article. Even the largest mainstream news organizations frequently turn stories so fast that they make mistakes that would not otherwise be made if they had taken the time to confirm the information. Rarely is breaking news, especially in a small niche market such as Heathen news, so urgent it cannot wait until more conclusive facts have emerged.

Stories about the AFA are a hot ticket, and they generate traffic from both those who strongly disagree and agree with their political beliefs. I personally find the AFA and their positions abhorrent. I also believe that I should be building a reputation not as a gossip and that truth is the greatest weapon that one can wield in the face of bigotry.

So how do we spot fake news? This infographic from Factcheck.org is helpful in explaining how to tell truth from fiction.

As a reputation based religion, we need to make sure the information we pass on is correct, so we do not damage others reputations (and our own) with rumors and falsehoods. This means getting all the facts before we move forward.

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