Favorite athlete gets in trouble at a nightclub under nebulous circumstances? Fake news. Politician acts directly against the interests of his or her base, but it’s a politician the base happens to really like? Fake news. Respected writer makes a detailed, fact-based case in favor of a policy or position you don’t like? Must be full of fake news. See something else you don’t like on the news? That’s probably fake news, too. Why not just add a “fake news” button to all the major social channels, so people can shoot down any story they don’t like without taking the time to spell out the words?
On the other side of the equation, however, is a fact. There really is fake news out there, and there always has been. This is nothing new. But the fact that fake news exists is no excuse to label every story you don’t like as fake news. If you want to get as close as possible to the real truth, then you have to be discerning.
The Truth is Out There… Somewhere
Look at the reactions to any major news story on social media , and you’re sure to see at least one segment of the audience discrediting it as fake news… and do not forget this is a term championed by tRump to discredit any news source that tells a story he doesn’t like . If they’re really committed to their cause, they might dig up stories from their preferred sources (which are of course not fake news) to refute what seems to be the clear, obvious conclusion of the story in question.
We live in an era of polarized news, where two well-known media sources can report the same story in completely different terms to cater to the pre-established views of their audience. And if you don’t like what you see on the news, you can surely find a blogger or social media personality who “reports” the “facts” of every major story with a heavy ideological slant. Even when sources don’t directly manipulate the information, it’s easier than ever to find a pair of experts who will publicly argue two completely different sides of the case. All media is so heavily laced with opinion today that it can be hard to decide for ourselves what’s true. It’s up to us to look at more than one source and form our own, well thoughtout, opinions.
Do Your Due Diligence
It might seem as though it’s worse than ever, but there has never been a time when we could completely trust the data handed down to us by media sources. The simple fact is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to truly present the full truth of a story. We’re looking at data, anecdotes, evidence, and research presented by media members or online personalities, then piecing it all together to get some impression of the truth.
What do you do when everyone has a platform to share news, and fewer than ever feel obligated to present objective truths? If you want to be well informed, being lazy isn’t an option. You must dig, learn, and form your own opinions based on the facts you have available. Assume that everyone has a bias and factor that into your opinion. Question whether the source has something to gain by presenting information in a specific way , and whether you have something to gain by interpreting the information in the way that you do.
Keep an Open Mind
Sometimes, we just want to believe certain things, because they confirm our viewpoints, support our ideology, or deal with a topic that’s close to our hearts. But in the end, sorting out the fake news from the truth is our responsibility as news consumers… AND as product consumers (keep in mind… marketers invented #FakeNews). We’ve got to look at our own biases, too, and make sure we’re approaching every story with an open mind.
Is being discerning easier said than done? You bet! In today’s world, everyone’s a publisher—and everyone influences someone—so in the end, we owe it to ourselves not to pick sides right away, but to do our best to get to the bottom of every important story. And THAT’S the truth.
This first appeared on Ted Rubin