Seek Truth: Challenge Everything
Don’t assume that because something sounds plausible or because it comes from a source that has some element of authority, that it’s true.
Even photographs lie. A cameraman chooses to point his camera one way rather than another. He chooses the least gruesome or the most gruesome part of a scene. He angles his camera up, instead of down. He finds the subject that will most likely be recognized by his audience as being from a certain place or part of a certain group. He finds a way to tell a story that will be most accessible to his target audience. None of these images will ever tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The phenomenon that is “fake news” didn’t just spring up out of Donald Trump’s imagination. Read Nick Davies’ Flat Earth News if you don’t believe me. We’re just noticing it more now. We live in a world where it’s easier for the average citizen (internet user) to fact check a news article themselves and then spread the word that it’s incorrect, that it’s willfully (or just ignorantly) misrepresenting a statistic, that a journalist doesn’t actually understand what they’re talking about. There is no news that isn’t biased. It’s impossible.
Whenever a journalist writes an article, they have to select what information they will or won’t include. They have a number of column inches that they are allowed to use or a word limit that they have to stick to or risk having their work rejected (or edited within an inch of its life until it’s barely recognizable as their work and doesn’t really even say what they wanted it to anymore). There simply isn’t room for every single fact or viewpoint that pertains to a specific situation. And let’s face it. None of us is prepared to read a thousand page document every time we want to find out what’s going on in the world. And people take advantage of this.
I’ve a got a couple of things to make clear before I go any further. I’m white and female and I live in South London. I’m in my mid-twenties and studying for a master’s degree with the benefit of a fellowship to pay for it. I’m left-wing, pro-remain and anti-Donald Trump. Those are just some of my biases and as a reporter, as a writer, they almost certainly inform the topics I choose to write about, the places I source my information from and the way in which I interpret that information.
It’s very, very hard for me to escape those biases, partly because they help define what I believe to be important and what I don’t. When I put together a piece for a news website or a blog, I have to consider what I’m going to write about, what angle I’m going to take and what information I’m going to include. Like I said, I can’t write about every single little aspect of something – there’s just not enough time and space in the world to write several books every time I want to report one piece of news, which is what I’d have to do. And most journalists, the ones who work for established newspapers and television stations, the big name media outlets, have corporate overlords who want their output to reflect the viewpoints that they think will sell and that will appease the people in government who control economic regulation.
So the message is this: challenge everything. The media, the government and even ordinary citizens talk a lot of rubbish that they haven’t fact checked or is purely a misrepresentation designed to further their own agendas. And that’s dangerous because the majority of us rely on that information to make balanced, informed decisions about important issues like whether we should leave the EU or who to vote for on Election Day. Don’t assume that because something sounds plausible or because it comes from a source that has some element of authority, that it’s true.
Do your research. Find reliable sources of your own. Question if a statistic really means what it says it does. But don’t stop there. Call us out on it. Do for the media what the media is supposed to do for government. Complain when we use a picture of a Sikh man to illustrate a story about a potential terrorist attack before we know the race of anyone actually involved. Tell us when the infographic we’ve used makes no sense. If you think that something isn’t true, don’t share it because shares generate views, which in turn generate money. The media doesn’t need you to believe what they print as long as it makes money. Hold us accountable. You shouldn’t have to but that doesn’t make it any less important that you do.