As most sentient people have noticed, distrust in the media is at an all-time high. It’s not just conservatives who whine about the “lamestream media”; people on all sides of the divide are generally dissatisfied, unconvinced that “all the news that’s fit to print” is actually fit… or even news… and certainly most of it isn’t in print!
In the glory days of good old-timey journalism, the mandate was to report, to chronicle the events of the day, absent of opinion and rife in verifiable fact. Nowadays, as we march onward in our digital revolution to accrue ever-more 24/7 online news/media sources, the sheer demand for content is so relentless that any story, any opinion, any slant or perspective is granted the same status as actual news. Which means much of what we perceive as news is actually an unholy mix of bias, misinformation, rushed reporting, and facts twisted so precipitously as to resemble bias, misinformation, and rushed reporting.
This “news food” (like “cheese food”… as resemblant of real cheese as, well, you get the point) is then put through various delivery systems that render it digestible pseudo-news. And once that gets bleated about by cable/network talking heads, splayed across blogs and online news sites, written/covered/spun by writers (some posing as journalists), or printed in newspapers and magazines, it becomes TRUTH. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t; it’s been given the pedigree of pontification and publication, and, therefore, must be true. Sorta true? Even a little bit true?
Oh, hell, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it’s believed to be true, that it supports someone’s point of view, and once it reaches that dubious bar, it then becomes “bandiable.” Spreadable. Ripe for sharing, posting, tweeting, blogging, slathering across the media landscape like so much warm butter (or, more accurately, congealed lard). Whatever greasy mess it is, it ain’t pretty.
And where does that leave us, those of us who do want “truth in media”? It’s become increasingly difficult, in a culture that readily serves up this pseudo-news cocktail, to know what, exactly, IS true. What is factual, verifiable, worthy of our viral attention… and what is not. And, sorry to have to say this, but we partakers have been, perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not, collaborators in the metastasizing of this regrettable phenomenon. Don’t think so?
I bet we’ve all done/experienced some of this:
• We read an article posted by a friend, a family member, someone in our circle. It resonates, we “like” it, we express our outrage/support as appropriate; we might even share it… then we discover it’s a two-year-old article, the event is no longer relevant to the current conversation, or the reported “facts” have been discovered to be false, different, evolved, and therefore, the article is not useful. But, too late; we’ve sent it all over the place.
• Someone in our circle posts an article that is highly critical of some person, organization, political party, etc., they do not support. They even offer accompanying commentary to further fan the outrage. But as readers look a little closer, they discover the writer of the article works for a rabidly oppositional site, or is a fire-breather of known bias whose “reporting” could only be described as opinion, often faulty opinion teeming with dubious “truths.” But, again, it’s too late; it’s already been shared, “liked,” and commented upon as factual.
• A major event occurs somewhere in the world (terrorism, police brutality, plane crash, etc.). As the coverage tsunamis in, we rush to our TVs, our computers, and immediately begin sharing and commenting. Unfortunately, what often gets reported at the beginning of a news cycle, particularly as the facts are still being ascertained in the midst of chaos, is inaccurate and hazy, built on rumor and faulty witness reports. But those faulty reports and false rumors have now been thrown all over the media, social and otherwise, and unless those doing the throwing are quick to follow up with corrected, more accurate information, the misinformation exists online forever as fact, misleading many in the process.
• An incendiary, salacious, click-baity article is posted; it revs up the pitchfork throwers, sending commenters and trolls into a frenzy… only to have it pointed out that the site is a “satire site,” the article was tongue-in-cheek, the content was a joke, and so on. But before this is made clear, hordes of people have disseminated the information to be discussed and debated as fact.
• And, even in the most benign of circumstances, some of us are guilty of posting, say, notices of a celebrity death… only to have someone clarify that the person being mourned actually died months, even years, earlier. (A year or so ago, I—yes, I—posted a bittersweet piece about my favorite childhood DJ from Chicago having passed… only to be informed that he’d died three years prior! That’s the last time I posted something without first checking the date!)
And that’s the point. We gotta do a better job of checking what we post and share. We do have a role in this “truth in media” equation, an obligation even. Because we—the readers, listeners, sharers, commenters, posters, tweeters, bloggers—are like bees that spread pollen, birds that flit from flower to flower; Johnny Appleseeds with our bags of, well, apple seeds. We may not write the stories, but if we’re out there pollinating cyberspace with our shares, tweets, Facebook posts, blogs, comments, etc., we are participating in either informing or misinforming the reading public.
The fix? Simple: before you post or share anything, apply the following:
- Check the date. If it’s old, odds are good the information is as well. Either don’t post it, or—if it’s a topic/person/event you feel strongly about—find a more current source. Or at least make a point of alerting people that it’s an old article.
- Check the site you’re sourcing from. If you’re sharing information from a far Right or far Left site, or any site known for a certain slant or opinion, odds are good the information being shared is biased toward that philosophy. Biased doesn’t necessarily mean not true, but it does mean one ought to share and read with a grain of circumspection. Even caution. Even cynicism. If you post something from such a site, be so kind as to make note of the political/philosophical penchant of the source so readers and sharers are aware and can judge accordingly.
- Check the veracity of what you’re posting. This one may be most important, particularly in regard to information that is incendiary, sensational, accusatory, insulting, potentially defaming; possibly not-true. Do us all a favor and get some fact-checking in before you post that sort of thing (or, really, anything). Between Snopes, Politifact, FactCheck, even Wikipedia, you can certainly do your own due diligence. In fact, it behooves us all to either refrain from posting slanderous-type material (particularly from a biased source), or be damn sure we’ve verified the truth of what we’re sharing. There’s enough misinformation and inaccurate propaganda out there without any of us contributing to the muckraking.
- Be upfront when posting from satire sites. It’s all well and good to be so savvy, so culturally hip, that you know all the cool satire sites in the world, but presume not everyone else does. Posting a disclaimer like *SATIRE* is not only appreciated, it goes a long way toward keeping horrified folks from sharing as fact what is meant to be humor.
- Do your homework and figure out which news sources post the most neutral, most factual, most verifiable, least salacious news. Then share from those sites. This may take some time to sort out, and designated sites may go in and out of the category, but it’s worth it in the long run to get a decent list together, not only in terms of what to share from where, but what to reference for your own news information.
I’m sure there are other items that would be useful to the assignment (feel free to leave yours in the comments), but for now, these five, if vigilantly applied, would contribute mightily to the stanching of misinformation, and the propagating of more “truth in media.” I urge us all to do our part. Then, when we complain about the “media,” we can do so knowing that we, at least, have not further contributed to its “lameness.”
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