I haven’t logged into Facebook since the end of 2018, and for Lent this year I decided to remove access to Twitter and Instagram as well. It was my default way to fill every spare minute of the day — the thought of not doing anything filled me with dread, so those gaps were filled with mindless scrolling through opinions and overly positive photographs.
I thought banning social media would help improve my own opinions. No longer would I be relying on news as it was rewritten by those I followed on Twitter, I’d be getting it straight from the source.
Except the source is often no better.
The benefit of social media, and in particular Twitter in this case, is that the news comes under heavy scrutiny almost immediately. Though you’re often only aware of this if you follow the relevant people — it’s very easy to unfollow those that you don’t agree with, leaving you with a pool of people that simply tell you what you want to hear. But if you hold fast and stick with a range of commentators, all sides of stories quickly surface as they all prove desperate to show you why the original source was wrong/right/misleading.
Without access to that, you can only trust the sources that you choose. In my case, this has often been The Times. I can’t easily tell you why. It wasn’t particularly the paper my parents read growing up or one I have any relation to, but it often felt reasonable and to-the-point and for typical news coverage I’m happy enough.
But with no one over my shoulder saying “be careful, there’s evidence over here to the contrary of that article” you either have to blindly trust your chosen source, or go in search of alternatives.
Of course, the alternatives you find — in my case The Guardian, to even things up a little — are doing exactly the same. In a lot of news coverage, truth appears secondary to sales. A headline that gets the green light from marketing is more valuable than one that is simply factual, and while I’m sure they’re aiming to tick both boxes, it often comes down on the wrong side.
Even so far as what newspapers consider to be news is widely different, but that’s for another day.