When I was little and I repeated some tidbit of information I’d heard on tv (usually from an ad, but sometimes from a show or the news), my parents would say, “Don’t believe everything you see on TV.”
The lesson they were trying to impart, really, was to practice reasonable skepticism. To consider my sources. To think about potential biases– who was saying the thing, and why, and how might they benefit? Did that bias undermine or enhance the underlying validity of the message?
Of course, I didn’t see the lessons so clearly as a kid. It was more like … well, not accepting everything seen on TV at face-value. Double-checking claims with multiple sources– other channels, newspapers, books, research papers, etc.
Obviously, I’ve adapted the maxim for the internet era. I’ll often find myself saying to my son (who rolls his eyes and joins in to finish my sentence with a sigh): “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.”
It’s gotten to the point that he’ll fact-check a claim (at minimum) with 2 or 3 different sources before telling me some news tidbit, just to address my doubt in advance. I’m pretty proud of him. Knowledge is power!
This expectation of doubt is one of the reasons I don’t get the why/ how of fake news. I mean, I get it, in the sense I’ve read the research on human psychology, sociological algorithms, and the role of social media.
But whenever I read about something like how social media/ search engine giants put misinformation pulled from Reddit in their breaking news segments during the immediate wake of the Las Vegas shooting, it’s just … upsetting. Upsetting on multiple levels. I mean …
Hey! Tech companies! Your algorithms are infused with creator bias, and also not very good at sorting fact from fiction! Maybe accept that human employees are necessary for certain tasks and stop trying so hard to automate everything?
I think tech companies should focus on hiring a diverse workforce to manage those high-impact intersections where news, politics, and personal life co-exist online. Develop skilled training programs, pay living wages and offer excellent benefits, and promote from within. A motivated, trained, and diverse workforce overseeing algorithmic functions will probably address these problems far more sensitively and effectively than an algorithm with skeleton staff oversight.
But there’s another side of this coin, and an informed populace can’t be informed if they’re only have one news source– whether that source is state-imposed or self-imposed out of ignorance and laziness/ ease of access.
So consumers and users of media! Don’t believe everything you read/ see! Consider the source! Actively seek out information and arguments that confront your perspective!
If you’re liberal/ progressive, add a little Fox News and National Review (or Slate’s, “Today in Conservative Media,” column) into your reading diet.
If you’re conservative, try adding in some new perspectives like The Atlantic, The Young Turks, or MSNBC.
Just step outside the box, and listen to the same information from a different perspective. The heart of the matter is usually more subtle and nuanced than expected. Sometimes it’s surprising what aspects of a story will get focused on.