Love him or hate him, before President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, the term “fake news” was typically reserved for obviously biased or outlandish news stories. Nowadays, however, no news is safe from these accusations, however true or false the story is in actuality.
Although it’s always wise to have some level of inquisition regarding the validity of any article you read (always fact check!), it has also become common practice to throw the terms “fake news” and “alternative facts” at any story that doesn’t entirely align with our own beliefs.
As humans, we prefer to see more of, if not exclusively, the opinions and information that align with our preconceived ideas and belief systems (conformation bias!) In fact, it’s much easier to process the information that conveniently fits into a prefabricated “category” rather than examining why you think this way (it’s no wonder Socrates was so unpopular for subjecting his peers to a similar scrutiny…)
However, that being said, there are news stories that provide the reader with falsified information from both sides: those that we would like to believe and those which we hope above anything else are false, so it’s important to always be checking the reliability of your source and the validity of the “facts” that are being provided.
To help combat this, there are three basic concepts to understand and think about when reading a news story: source (am I familiar with the source? Do I trust it?), bias (am I or is this source biased in some direction? Why?), and facts (where is this information accredited to? Do I trust the initial source?)
There are many trustworthy sources in the media, the majority of which fall into the category of “mainstream media,” meaning that these sources are relatively unbiased or minimally biased, providing an accurate and comprehensive depiction of the events that took place in the report. This would include NPR, The Atlantic, and BBC. A fast way to see where the source you’re reading from falls on the bias spectrum is to Google “media bias chart” and check to make sure that your source is as close to the middle as possible. If it isn’t, be sure to keep that in mind when processing the information that’s given in the report.
Reputation is important. If the source isn’t recognizable or is known to be biased, and the information evokes an extreme reaction in one way or another, there’s a good chance that it’s “fake news.” One of the primary functions of this is to stir up controversy within our already divided country in order to detract attention from the real issues that are facing the national and global communities. This particular brand of “fake news” is also made specifically for the purpose of creating distrust with more reputable sources, creating a confused public that’s more susceptible to believing outlandish claims in their search for “the truth,” and further feeding into the idea that “the media” as a whole is the problem.
However, when the mainstream media becomes the enemy, our society has lost hope of mass communication of information and we become susceptible as a whole to falling under dictatorial rule, turning a blind eye to the true problems, and becoming divided beyond repair. That’s when we lose hope. Hope for a sustainable future. Hope for reconciliation between divided nations, cultures, communities, and families. And lastly, hope for ever fully understanding the truth of even the most mundane events.
It’s important to be an informed consumer of news. Always check your sources, their potential for bias, and the validity of the facts that are being shared. Be sure to truly listen to the arguments that are being made, and why they might be made. Read with inquisition, but never write off the media as a whole. The reliable, mass communication of news and the ability of the individual to be an informed consumer is crucial to the upkeep of democracy and our own livelihood as humans co-habilitating on this planet.