In a family short period of time, the term “fake news” has worked its way into the public consciousness. And whatever you might think about the man who popularised the term, there’s no escaping the fact that a lot of news is fake.
This isn’t to say that we’re being fed outright lies (although who can say for sure), but that the news media is incentivised to present the world to us in the most emotive, divisive, and incendiary terms possible. The more strongly are emotions are triggered, whether they be sympathy, disgust or preferably anger, the more likely we are to share the article or video, brining them more pf hose sweet, sweet, advertising bucks.
But this is bad news for us. The more common this becomes, the less closely our view of the world matches up with reality. We start to believe that everybody is out to get us, or that violence and danger is everywhere, or that our political opponents are pure evil.
None of this is true. In fact, by pretty much any measure you care to choose, the world is a happier, safer, kinder and fairer place than sit has been at any point in human history. It’s the fact that we’re fed such a steady diet of bad news, while being positively starved of good news, that we feel as if everything is terrible. Here’s a quote for the video above on the subject?
Unfortunately we remember some things much more easily than others, so this “availability heuristic” can lead us to make really bad assessments of risk.
Things that are more commonly and vividly shown in the media, like a violent murder, will be a lot easier to remember rehab things that are far more common in real life but aren’t as dramatic, like a cancer patient dying peacefully at home.
So what can we do about it? Sadly, not much. The news has been fearing into this feature of human psychology for a long time, and probably isn’t about to stop any time soon. But we can go some way to protecting our sanity simply by being aware of the way our minds work. Simply by recognising that our brains are more likely to hold onto and believe bad news, we become a little more suspicious of the most pessimistic voices in our heads. We can remind ourselves that the information we see on our phones is just a tiny, negatively biased sliver of what’s actually going on in the world. And maybe we can remember to watch a little less bad news.
There’s a growing sentiment that you can’t trust the news. It’s the reason why, for starters, people are protesting in the streets because they’re being asked to were a piece of cloth over their faces during a global pandemic. People seem to believe that the media is only interested in lying to us.
I don’t believe that. I believe that, just as in most professions, the majority of people who work in them are good, honest, hard-working people who want to do their jobs well. The problem is that these hard-working people don’t make the final decisions about what does and doesn’t get published. And the people who do, more than being interested in keeping us well informed, are interested in selling our eyeballs to advertisers.
You may not watch MSNBC but just know that this problem still affects you, too. All the commercial networks function the same – and no doubt that content seeps into your social media feed, one way or the other.
It’s possible that I’m more sensitive to the editorial process due to my background in public radio, where no decision I ever witnessed was predicated on how a topic or guest would “rate.” The longer I was at MSNBC, the more I saw such choices — it’s practically baked in to the editorial process – and those decisions affect news content every day. Likewise, it’s taboo to discuss how the ratings scheme distorts content, or it’s simply taken for granted, because everyone in the commercial broadcast news industry is doing the exact same thing.
But behind closed doors, industry leaders will admit the damage that’s being done.
“We are a cancer and there is no cure,” a successful and insightful TV veteran said to me. “But if you could find a cure, it would change the world.”
Whatever end of the political spectrum you’re on, this problem affects you. And while it may not be possible to force the news media to start acting responsibly, it is possible to be responsible about the sources of our information and how we allow it to form our views of the world. Simply opting-out of the news isn’t the answer. There are things happening in the world that we genuinely need to be informed about. But staying informed now also requires that we stay alert.
"You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending."
July 17, 2020 9:15 pm - Steve Peters
In the internet era, there’s no belief that you can’t find support for. Do you believe that aliens are walking among us? This guy has been onto them for years. Are you convinced that the Earth is flat? These people are experts on the subject. Do you think that climate change is real or a hoax? Either way,…continue reading on Medium…
Tony Harcup, author of the new book “What’s The Point Of News?” discusses the ever more pressing need for a shift towards ethical journalism
Chief among the values that ought to guide news reporting is that it should serve the public good by providing people with societally important and useful information, emphasising the social utility of news for an audience comprising not just isolated individuals but (potentially) active citizens. Amid the horror stories and the quirky tales, alongside the sensational and the entertaining, there is an urgent need for what might be thought of as socially enabling and democratically empowering information that strengthens active citizenship by promoting understanding and imaginative empathy.
Whilst sifting through my news feed this morning I was reminded of this gem by CPG Grey on the way the way the media weaponises our emotions in order to get us to share their content.
Just as germs exploit weak points in your immune system, so do thought germs exploit weak points in your brain; aka emotions. Once inside, thought germs that press emotional buttons get their hosts to spread them more – measurably more…
…Awe is pretty good which is why websites that construct thought germs like biological weapons, arm them with titles like “7 Whatever’s That Will Blow Your Mind”, or “The Shocking Secret Behind This…Thing”. But anger is the ultimate edge for a thought germ. Anger bypasses your mental immune system and compels you to share it like nothing else.