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It has become possible for anyone to start a news website. While this has many advantages, both to the creator and to their audience, it also poses some serious problems. On the one hand, people get a voice — the ability to say and share what they want. On the other hand, people can say and share whatever they want — and other people believe it to be truth.

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I’ve been running a conscious alternative news platform for over seven years now. In the course of that time, I’ve seen some truly amazing things, and some troubling things, too. But now, more than ever, I believe it’s important for people to recognize the problem with some alternative news websites and to understand what really goes on. They are harming the face of independent news and I feel it needs to stop.

Why Alternative News Is Necessary

It’s not hard to understand why alternative news exists at this point. With the majority of the mainstream media being owned by just five corporations, diverse viewpoints and interpretations of world events have become scarce. And when you understand that most outlets are serving some sort of corporate or political agenda, you start to notice how those biases play out in the representation of certain stories, and even in how frequently they’re covered. Showing certain stories over others, and showing them repeatedly, goes a long way toward shaping public opinion.

Many are unaware of how often important stories are blacked out completely by all of mainstream media. The major pipeline spill that occurred during the Standing Rock protests or the revelation that the Pentagon paid a PR firm to create fake terrorist videos are just two recent examples. Are these not things the people should know about? Why aren’t they being reported on?

This leads us to wonder if there is in fact an agenda to hide this information. And how might that work? Sharyl Atkisson, a former CBS investigative journalist, explained that “astroturf,” or fake grassroots movements, funded by political, corporate, or other special interests, are very effectively manipulating and distorting mainstream media messages.

Further, here is a document declassified by the CIA that outlines their involvement in manipulating media, journalists, authors, films, and more to have “reporters postpone, change, hold, or even scrap stories that could have adversely affected national security interests or jeopardized sources and methods.” The ‘national security’ play has always been a way for these agencies to justify shady actions.

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Given the shady dealings, agency manipulation, and ownership structure of most of mainstream media, the need for alternative voices is clear. But how should we view those alternative voices? Do we take their work at face value?

The Problems With Alternative News Websites

I have seen a lot in the past seven years and I have seen a movement that is very important lose a lot of credibility — for GOOD reason. It’s easy to dismiss alternative news websites because so many of them so carelessly carry out their work. There are good ones out there, but they are vastly outnumbered by the bad.

I decided to write this because, as someone working within this movement and who cares a lot about creating a better world, I want people to know the truth so they can make informed decisions. As much as I respect many people for what they do, there is an inherent danger in not raising awareness about this. If we expose mainstream media, we should expose alternative media too; it’s only fair. I hope this encourages many of these outlets to do better work.

Given the ease of creating alternative news websites these days, and the ease of making advertising revenue, it’s easy to see why much of the content that gets posted is questionable.

Usually Run by One or Two People

Many alternative news or health websites are run by just one or two people. While this isn’t bad when it’s a passionate person who’s doing work the right way, it can become a problem when that person is simply doing it for a business. They are driven to make money by exploiting a niche market, not a desire to create change, and so they make low quality websites and content so ads can be placed on the website. As you might imagine, it begins to create some or even all of the following issues that I believe do more harm than good to the movement.

Too Driven by Ad Revenue 

Many of the outlets I’ve worked with firsthand are highly driven by ad dollars. While it would be naive to suggest anyone should run a business without making money, since we need money to survive on this planet and simply hosting a website requires it, a desire to do good needs to remain the bottom line. Many outlets will post just about anything to make ad revenue. They will even go so far as to venture completely outside of their initial intention simply to keep up with making funds. I’ve had people ask us to post something on our page for even just 10 or 15 minutes, even after I told them it was a fake or false story. Even when you let them know that a story or health tip is false, they will post it anyway to get as many hits as they can before people figure it out — if they do. And this leads to the next problem.

Copying Content

Since it is typically only one or two people running each of these huge websites and Facebook pages, they can’t possibly write original content each day. And so, the majority of the time, they simply copy and paste the most viral and trendy stories onto their own website. No adding their own thoughts, opinions, insight, etc. — just taking content and adding a little link at the bottom back to the original creators. Now some have legitimate syndicated content partnerships, but this is rare. What typically happens is websites will copy and paste the most viral content each day or simply change the first few lines so the content looks fresh. This entire process takes away from the few websites that do write original content and pay a lot of money to do so.

Taking other website's content.

Taking other website’s content.

The next time you read an article from an alternative news website, have a look at where the content originally came from. Check to see how many times that thread goes back from website to website to website. Often the content originates from six or seven sites back. Certainly at CE we see our original content posted on other websites all the time, sourced back to another site that took it from us (and another site, and another site).

Risk for False Claims and Poor Fact Checking

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False Information being spread

Since many of these websites are run by one person, they take their content from other websites. And since their primary objective is to make as much ad revenue as possible, they often look for the most trendy or viral topic and repost without ever checking to see if the story is true. Health research, political scandals, lifestyle suggestions, and more — these topics often contain false information and there is no research behind it! People then spread this ‘exciting’ information, and since things can go viral quite easily, false information about real issues travels all over the web, all in the name of carelessness and profit. The very things they expose the mainstream for doing, they are doing themselves.

Check the article for sources, legitimate ones. Are there any? Do they link to credible information? Oftentimes you will find they don’t.

Why It Has to Change

People are starting to realize en mass that the mainstream media has its own agendas, and rarely, if ever, do they align with our well-being. They are starting to move away from this sponsored, biased content and looking for other sources. The question becomes, what will they find instead? The bevy of alternative news websites that aren’t being run ethically or with integrity? Alternative sites that kill the credibility of the entire movement because of the way they title, image, and spread content that is false?

As a media organization that spends a lot of time doing what we do, hiring the necessary people to make sure work is done right and articles researched properly, we have to stand up and fight against laziness and greed, and we have to fight for the truth. It’s only fair. How could we possibly justify holding mainstream media accountable but letting alternative media slide?

So now you know. You know what to look out for and what to do. My advice is, stop supporting and sharing content that isn’t sourced or well researched. Sharing it only further denigrates this movement and supports these bad habits.

If you recognize how good alternative websites operate compared to the not so good ones, awesome! You are aware and on the ball. Support those sites! If you love what we do here at CE, check out our funding campaign for CE NEWS, as we are taking our high quality media to the next level!

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