The Real Problem with that “Fake News” Chart

Shortly after the presidential election and subsequent fake news freak-out of 2016, the following chart made the rounds on Facebook and Reddit. In my mind, this chart represents just about everything that’s wrong with the current state of civil discourse.


The immediate issue at play is the chart’s dubious omission of new media outlets and alternative presses, which ultimately reinforces the liberal ethos of traditional news outlets — that highly educated elites are the only people who ought to have an authoritative voice in the public sphere. This chart contributes absolutely nothing new to discourse; it’s the same self-important battle-cry that liberals have been shouting since the end of the Progressive Era. I highly doubt anyone has learned anything new from this chart. It’s a simple pat-on-the-back for the many people who already follow traditional news outlets, and a big middle finger to people who, for whatever reason, follow so-called “sensational” or “clickbait” outlets.

Social psychology teaches us that well-intended attempts to correct people can actually reaffirm their false beliefs. When liberals segment Infowars and Brietbart as “Conservative Utter Garbage/Conspiracy Theories”, they risk alienating the people who are most at risk for believing those sources of information. Likewise, when conservatives refer to Addicting Info as a burning pile of liberal trash, they legitimize the website as a trustworthy source of information for people who think that conservative worldviews are inherently wrong.

The same literature suggests that the best way to correct a false belief is to correct like-minded citizens — be a watchdog for the truth in your own echo chambers. This not only means risking face with political allies, but also challenging your own beliefs to weed out or reconcile conflicting facts and narratives, always seeking out the greater truth. You might not be able to convince our opponents that they’re wrong, but you can better people within your own echo chambers by pushing them to accept sincere, rational, and sometimes radical appeals that stand up to tough scrutiny.

We shouldn’t let our friends off the hook for making ill-conceived or ungrounded claims or for sharing charts that espouse antiquated liberal ideals. The first step for breaking out of our echo chambers is to confront those within for the betterment of our ideals.

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