News - don't fake it

(Posted on 21/08/19)

News - don't fake it

Traditional media comes in for a lot of criticism for being biased. More people are turning to social media for their news. But there’s no guarantee that social media is balanced either, with even more room for disinformation, bias, unregulated comment, anger and just plain lies. This isn’t very useful if you rely on the internet and news agencies for your research.

We apparently live in what has been dubbed a “post-truth” world. During the 2016 US presidential race, fake news became synonymous with one of the candidates on the campaign trail (I’ll let you guess which one). Whenever you go online you enter a maelstrom of information and misinformation. You never know exactly what you’ll encounter. Fake news has become part of the ‘online experience’, which is largely unregulated. Ads bombard you, targeting you due to your browsing and purchasing history, invading your peripheral vision. They continue to bombard you until you cave in and buy them, and it is replaced by another product, that you may have expressed an interest in by looking at it for a millisecond (while waiting for another page to load a month ago). Even ads can misinform. There are adverts masquerading as news items, news stories masquerading as adverts and influencers endorsing products they are being paid to promote. Beyond that, there are generally misleading tactics, such as fake or paid-for reviews on websites, blatant nepotism or viral videos that are hits today and gone (and forgotten) tomorrow.

There are many positives to social media and online news channels. They are a great way to get a message out quickly, to engage with an audience first-hand. Its immediacy is one of its great strengths. You can speak to people who are interested in your story, not a random audience that won’t be as receptive. You can tailor your writing to your audience and if you are talking to like-minded people, they can better enjoy and absorb your work. But whether it’s for research or recreation, always be judgemental, perhaps even sceptical, of what you read. Is it impartial? Is it written by someone who knows their stuff? Are the facts true?

One of the biggest faults of the internet, and social media in particular, is that these networks and forums become ‘echo chambers’ of polarised views. Political and social viewpoints will draw like-minded people and within these spheres, their truth becomes the accepted truth whether it is or not. Anyone who doesn’t believe their version is ‘wrong’ and this leads to the creation of a parallel universe of news channels, websites, stories and other media. Any opposing views can be passed off as ‘fake news’ (even when it emanates from a reputable source, channel or news agency), or it’s just more bias. News can be ‘spun’ to suit any viewpoint and statistics can be made to read how someone with a particular argument wants them to be. In a post-truth world, the true facts are out there – they’re just not as easy to find as they used to be.