Fake news, alternative facts; it seems like everyone has their own version of reality these days. With the increasing numbers of platforms online to disseminate information or share opinions the consumer of content can feel overwhelmed at times. But being overwhelmed is no reason to be lazy. Is it really the job of Facebook to filter out fake news or is it the responsible of the consumer? In fact, in defense of free speech if someone wants to create fake news, even if a rogue nation, shouldn’t it be allowable? It is not the job of the content makers solely to ensure that the information the public receives is accurate and unbiased. The public consuming the information needs to take some responsibility as well.
Trickery exists of course, but is it really all that different today than in the past? Advertisers and marketing campaigns were always looking for ways to entice consumers. If someone blogs about how Dove soap changed their life is it really all that different from watching a Dove soap commercial while waiting for American Idol to come back on the screen? Not really, it is about understanding the context and not being too lazy to understand that the Facebook story on your feed is from a personal blog, paid for by a corporation or suspiciously from nytimes.net (instead of the actual Web address for the New York Times, nytimes.com.)
We the people have a responsible to discern the information coming our way, not just consume it. Would you buy a carton of milk without checking the expiration date? Of course not, so don’t consume information online as if there is no nefarious intent simply because it was retweeted 400 times. Time is a commodity and with all the competing platforms on which to consume information it might appear there is no time to ensure the validity information. But again, that is just lazy and there are two simple ways to figure out what or who is beyond the brand of truth currently streaming.
- Who wrote it?
Not just the author, although that information can speak volumes, but where is the content sponsored. If it is a blog, is it a personal blog or the blog on a company of organization website? This gives you a lot of information already. A personal blog is that person’s opinion (case in point what you are reading right now), and an organization’s blog also is going to frame issues or information to meet the mission or brand of that organization. Not rocket science, right?
- Who paid for it?
This might take a little more sleuthing on the part of the consumer, but can also explain whether the information has an agenda behind it. As mentioned above that article about the amazing outcomes of using Dove soap, is likely paid for by Unilever (company that owns the Dove brand – and no they are not paying me to mention dove in this post.) Fake news may be harder to discern who is paying for it, but again check the link to see if it is legitimate.
In truth, all the news consumed, even if from a “legitimate” source should not always be taken as unbiased fact. Especially under the “who paid for it?” umbrella it is important to know who, or what company owns the news station or newspapers being consumed. For example, Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post, so how critical will reporters be about things such as Amazon buying Whole Foods? (Again, this being a blog I am not stating as a fact that Washington Post is giving Amazon biased coverage, but it is something I am aware of while I read the paper.)
Just some additional food for thought while consuming information…Rupert Murdoch, known as owning a little bit of everything, owns Fox News and The Wall Street Journal and many more media outlets. Most news media is owned by huge corporations that own companies and products for sale to consumers. This does not assume bias in coverage but it is always important to remember who owns the information when consuming it.
Bottom line an informed electorate is crucial for a democracy, so let’s be informed consumers and do more than “like” articles in a feed. Let’s stop and think for a minute where it is coming from