Even though this column appears on the “Opinion” page of the Enterprise, it seems important that the opinion be informed. Finding informed opinions is becoming increasingly more difficult.

Of course, it used to be vastly more complicated. Prior to about 1995 (let’s not quibble about this), people were required to go to libraries to get information where they would hope the information was current, not from a book published 30 years ago. Many of my readers probably remember the challenge of navigating microfiche, card catalogs, waiting for interlibrary loans to arrive and lots of other roadblocks to gaining information.

Now, as a newspaper columnist, I do about 98% of my research from the comfort of my bed or whatever furniture is provided by cafes, restaurants, airports or other places of business. The internet has made getting information just a matter of a few clicks with the help of Google, Bing, Yahoo, Wolframalpha, Baidu and DuckDuckGo, to name but some of the major search engines. As much as I still love libraries, when I am in a hurry, I really appreciate the speed of the internet.

So, is there a problem here? Oh, yes indeed. We can call it “fake” news, fake video, fake websites and just plain fake information. Want to get your message of hate, division and white superiority out to the world? Then use the internet and get your website onto the first page or two of a Google search. If you don’t mind reading 11,000 words in the Terms of Use page of WiX, a website construction place, you will discover that you can’t use the service to:

“… submit, transmit or display any User Content, or use Licensed Content in a context, which may be deemed as defamatory, libelous, obscene, harassing, threatening, incendiary, abusive, racist, offensive, deceptive or fraudulent, encouraging criminal or harmful conduct, or which otherwise violates the rights of Wix or any third party (including any intellectual property rights, privacy rights, contractual or fiduciary rights), or otherwise shows any person, entity or brand in a bad or disparaging light, without their prior explicit approval ...”

But as most of us know, we are not going to slog through all of the legalese to find out what we can and can’t do. So it doesn’t take much effort to get messages out that are incendiary, offensive, racist or deceptive. Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram all can contain such postings. Much of this information can be found to be “fake” but how is one to know? I rely on fact-checking services such as Snopes, FactCheck.org and the Poynter Institute.

Why is this important? Because, unless you look at the actual source of things, you may believe things that are simply not true. The problem with that is most of us make decisions about who to vote for, what companies to support, how to figure out what our local leaders are doing, by what we believe to be true, not what might actually be factual and true.

This rather pessimistic column probably contains my most disturbing opinion. As it grows increasingly difficult to figure out what is accurate, sort of accurate or just plain inaccurate, it is going to prove exceedingly hard to share opinions based on solid facts. This makes most of our efforts to arrive at sensible decisions, progressively more difficult.

As long as there is such an overwhelming amount of information on the internet, we will be faced with the task of separating fake from fact. In my next column, I will share information about how to approach this daunting task, much of which was discovered on a site called Aos Fatos (the facts), a Brazilian fact-checking project. Until then, it behooves all of us to question anything we read on social media, and to question much of what appears on many websites. This is truly a case of qui legit, et cave, or let the reader beware.

Kevin Wychopen is a semi-retired school counselor and columnist for the Enterprise. Contact him at itsabigworld@live.com.

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