Fake News Is Not the Only Problem
Gilad Lotan

Verifying the Facts

Yes, thank you so much for this piece. I think the biggest problem is not that we have some new form of propaganda and fear-mongering in fake news, but rather we see a special digital incarnation of the same, decades-old media spin. On one hand (in theory) we have the whole internet to search for transparency and fact-checking available to us more than we ever have.

But on the other, humans are notoriously insular when it comes to beliefs and like to reaffirm for themselves what they believe is true rather than challenge it. Mainstream media and fringe media exist for many purposes— even non-profits aren’t apolitical. Of course everyone has an agenda, and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist. Period.

Who’s telling the truth? We come to the dicey issue of who has the authority to say what is true. What constitutes truth, in essence, are the hard, judgement-free facts. “The sky is blue, water is wet.”

And we also have a long history of mainstream institutions being accused of withholding those facts — running the gamut on believable claims from those concerned about sanitizing and erasure in high school history books to blogs for chemtrail and Illuminati conspiracy theorists.

So, we have people, for varying reasons, unwilling to believe in what the media says, whether it’s spin or lying by omission or because they simply don’t like what the media tells them because it contradicts their beliefs. It becomes very hard to find an authoritative source that people will believe.

This is such an intrinsically human problem, and just because it’s pretty much inherent in our culture doesn’t mean that new means of utilizing it aren’t problematic or that we cannot find some solution eventually.

I have very few solutions at this point, but my biggest idea is for the individual and for considering the agenda of the media in question, and interrogating it. What is the reason [the media] are reporting this? (“Hillary Clinton is running for president, and she was ill.”) What information therein can be seen as judgement-free factual? (“Hillary Clinton had pneumonia”) What can seen as propaganda? (“Covering up Hillary’s bizarre behavior!”)

You can may only be able to find one “fact” and that fact being, “people will want to read/watch this and give our [insert media] attention.” So, ask yourself who runs the media in question and for whom? What would they omit/add to support their agenda?

Are we going to really do this? Well, probably not. See the position of humans being notoriously insular. It involves a whole lot of critical thinking that the internet (humans) are not known for.

The best suggestion I’ve seen is minimizing tribalism and the usage of algorithms. Utilizing technology by erasing the emotional human element might seem almost impossible and unreasonable, but then high quality data has no real secondary agenda until interpretation. This is a big conversation.

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