With growing bias and subjectivity in our news, and “fact-checkers” who apparently need fact-checking, it is often difficult for me to watch the news anymore or even see it shared on social media.
Social media is especially painful, because of the growing predilection of corporations and people to categorize and label everyone based on an article or a few words.
Here is an example of something that drives me crazy. A fact-check that says there is “missing context” on a story.
I have friends who span the political spectrum, and I see lots of stories get shared. I would estimate that over 90% of the stories I see shared lack some context or balance in perspective.
Recently, the story of the woman getting arrested at a school football game has been making the rounds with political Conservatives. People describe the event as a woman getting tased and arrested for not wearing a mask while being outdoors and socially distanced from others. In many cases, I see the story is flagged because the “independent fact-checkers” say there is missing context.
So, what context is missing?
The fact-checkers say the woman was arrested for criminal trespass and was not arrested for not wearing a mask. Of course, that gives you the impression that her not wearing the mask was irrelevant and that she did something else to warrant getting arrested.
Well, if you know the story (or read the story provided by the fact-checker), the woman was arrested for criminal trespass because she violated school policy. What was the school policy? She was not wearing a mask on school property.
It appears that on this case – it is actually the alert of “missing context” that is somewhat misleading.
Bias and misinformation are a threat to our intelligence
Though I am often critical of news organizations and news media, I do not think “the media” is the enemy of the people.
Rather, I have come to accept that as technology has expanded our access to information and increased competition for audience and advertising – most media organizations treat headlines as marketing copy (with all media occasionally guilty of resorting to “click-bait headlines,” which is nothing more than a polite term for “false advertising.”).
What’s more, I accept that subjectivity interlaced with reporting improves media profit – therefore – in a competitive marketplace it will only continue to increase.
That does not mean media is the enemy. Journalists, reporters, commentators and entertainers are all essential. It is bias and misinformation that are (and always have been) a threat to us because they influence our perceptions and thoughts. And the quality of our thoughts influence our actions and decisions.
With that said, a question that comes to my mind is, “What is the solution to improve the quality of information we process about the world around us?”
This leads me to comment on the whole scheme of “fact-checking” on Facebook and other social networks. It is poorly designed and implemented, inconsistently applied and largely ineffectual. What could it possibly achieve since the real battle for truth was lost (9 times out of 10) before the story even appeared in social media in the first place?
In fact, as it stands now, the labels of “false story” or “missing context” coupled with complaints of censorship from page owners and bans for violating community guidelines have almost become badges of honor. I see people celebrate the fact that they have been sent to “Facebook Jail.” It has become a source of pride.
How can we improve the quality of information we process about the world around us?
In my opinion, what we really need is news that focuses on the core facts – just the facts – and to allow people to ask questions and draw conclusions based on just the facts.
This is the format for a news story that the media companies I own will follow to improve the quality of information being shared:
- First, a breakdown of a story’s key facts without interpretation or subjectivity. No commentary or unnecessary information.
- Second, a list of sources with links to original reporting so people can compare and contrast reporting.
- Third, a series of quotes from people relevant to the story.
- And finally, a thread for questions and discussion.
In my view, this format accomplishes a few things:
- There should never be a label on social networks or through fact-checking organizations such as “missing context” or “false story” for any news item that follows this format.
- People who want to be informed without bias, and want to learn how to ask better questions, will be drawn to the story that follows this format. A reader will know the core elements and be better able to spot interpretations and opinions.
It is time our country was better informed. This is one approach that could help us improve the quality of the information we receive and help us make better decisions.