News, news, news. Why is there so much news? And now I have to deal with ‘fake’ news? What’s real news anyways?
As we all know, the term ‘fake news’ has seen a rise in popularity in recent years, notably due to a sprinkling of mildly controversial political results. The end result being that everyone seems to blame everyone else for being incompetent readers or indeed incompetent ‘truth news’-locators.
But how easy is finding the absolute truth? Probably not very. Probably it doesn’t quite work that way.
Instead everything is on some sort of lie-truth spectrum modelled by a nice sexy bell curve in which Trump-esque lunacy is found to the left, science journals are found to the right, mainstream news is found somewhere in the fat middle but nothing is strictly ‘truth’.
So clearly what we want to achieve is relative truth, somewhere at least to the right of the curve. And what do we call the act of seeking relative truth?
So in theory the game of ‘truth-seeker’ is played like one plays the game of ‘science’ – we take a question (a news headline) and gather our thoughts by reading studies (news) but then crucially we increase and decrease the probability of that being true by looking at how credible the evidence is, does the evidence match the conclusion, how many people have independently reached that conclusion etc.
But do we? Of course we don’t, even scientists rarely play this game when reading on a day to day basis. Plus, come on, we have lives.
No, try as we might, most of those loosely formed ‘facts’ that one gets are from scrolling through headlines on social media news feed without following through on the majority of the ‘reading’. Headlines, which we involuntarily and subconsciously absorb – the next step is that our brains silently form links and assumptions without informing us. Before we know it we’ve already come up with our opinions based, on nothing.
Headlines grr – so rarely do they reflect what’s actually in the article. Why? Because they have to be appealing to us and well ‘some chemical that is similar to a chemical found in an expensive herb has on one occasion of many shown a positive correlation in reducing the incidence of heart disease in a small group of people which is statistically not significant – more evidence pending’ is so much less catchy than ‘ Saffron PREVENTS heart disease!’ to which subsequently corporations like Holland and Barrett squeal with glee at the new market of expensive saffron and soon everyone is putting saffron on their avocado toast.
If headlines really wanted to be eye-catching they should all just say ‘HEY YOU THERE! LOOK OVER HERE!’ Though I concede that is probably unproductive…
Who’s fault is it?
Well, as you’ve probably guessed its not simple. On paper we have the tools to finding relative truthfulness but the realities of every day life mean we often jump to conclusions and end up making less than inspired decisions. The newspapers know this, the best end result for them is if they can get you on a feedback loop of selling you a particular opinion.
But is that it? Are we doomed forever?
Yes. Haha only joking, lighten up honestly.
OK so here’s a list of things you can do:
- Feel comfortable in saying ‘I don’t know’ – be honest when you haven’t read enough about something to formulate an opinion that wasn’t handed to you. You had a busy week; give yourself a break eh?
- Try ‘liking’ something from a news source you don’t normally pick – this is to make sure facebook isn’t only showing you things you already believe or think you believe in.
- Try as best as you can to look at the original sources, evidence etc. – often the news paper has an immediate link to where they got their story – read that instead of the newspaper
- Eat a balanced diet – why not eh?