The Trouble With Absorbing the World’s News

I think we can all agree there is a lot of noise on the web. Social media, ads, and Netflix all add up to one homogeneous cloud of media that we consume.

We’ve gotten pretty good at ignoring and filtering it.

But what about when we don’t want to ignore it. What about the news? What about events that are going on in a distant corner of the world. You could be reading about the Gaza War right now if you wanted to. But where would would you turn?

Facebook? Probably not.

Likely, you would turn to Google and start searching. Maybe you’d skim a Wikipedia article to get some context and then search for more specific terms surrounding the Gaza War.

There’s no denying that you’re going to find tons of information when you go searching for it. The question, though, is which of it can you trust?

“The speed and reach of the web has certainly played a role in the dissemination of incorrect facts.”

The word “news” itself has kind of lost its meaning on the web, don’t you think? Your News Feed on Facebook isn’t exactly “news”. BuzzFeed has a “news” section but I wouldn’t take it as gospel.

Then you have your traditional news brands. Major ones like The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times or more offbeat ones like The Verge or Mashable. On the Internet, these publications thrive off of newsjacking. Their success is probably measured by how many ad clicks they get, which is determined by how much traffic they get, which is achieved (mostly) by breaking stories before anyone else.

When news breaks, one publication gets to it first (barely), then others post their versions, then the second wave uses those stories to fuel their own, then Twitter starts picking out pieces to post, but then the original publications go back and “update” their story because they got something wrong or there was a new development.

The problem is at this point the information has already spread. Some people have already dipped their toes into the Internet news pool, got a little taste and moved on, probably to tell more people throughout the day about the “news” they “heard”.

I’d like to say this is not exclusive to the Internet, but the speed and reach of the web has certainly played a role in the dissemination of incorrect facts.

Back to our Gaza example. You hear about this event and you want to know more about it so you’re Googling things. But you know that not everything you’re going to read is going to be true so you have to read a few different sources, gather different opinions and put the pieces together yourself.

But how many people actually do this?

I think it’s getting to the point where we need to be critical thinkers on the web and do our own due diligence when we are researching a subject. We may need to visit a dozen sources to actually get the full (and factual) story.

For example, the past few weeks I’ve been delving into the Net Neutrality discussion. I want to know its history, the players involved and what I can do to help out. Three weeks has given me enough time to read about 50 articles on the subject.

During these last three weeks, I’ve changed my own opinion three times because I keep reading new angles on the subject. I finally had to turn the computer off and let everything soak in before I was trapped in a “news” whirlwind.

If you’re interested in learning about Net Neutrality I suggest you start here.

What I learned from all of this is how important trust is on the Internet. If you have a publication you trust, you can save time by going straight to them for info on the subject you’re researching. Maybe it’s a Twitter user, maybe it’s a blogger. You probably have one for every topic you’re into.

Some people won’t agree with your trusted sources and that’s ok, but I urge you to really research them before you commit. Find out what their values are. Find the writers you identify with the most. See which publications they link to the most because these might be the publishers they trust.

Through trust we can all be a little smarter when researching on the web. Let’s stop broadcasting “news” just because someone says it’s “news”. Let’s put our thinking caps on and weed out the BS.

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