Disillusioned. That would probably be the best word to describe my state.
What we are realizing in the aftermath of this election is that perhaps we aren’t as close to our friends and neighbors as we once believed, and technology has done just as much to separate us as it has to bring us together. Apparently, we are all traveling inside of like-minded, happy place bubbles and completely unaware of the world around us. This includes avoiding other people’s perspectives, news from a wide variety of sources, and current events taking place in nations far from home.
This realization occured to me a while back when a young colleague of mine asked about a piece of celebrity gossip she had read online (ahhhh simpler times.) I took her under my wing, assured her the news was false, and taught her how to accurately find out whether a piece of news is real or fake. If my memory serves me, she had scooped the gossip from a Facebook share, and I told her that in order to get to the bottom of a story, you have to look in a few different places. My lesson in a nutshell: always Google a headline and look under the “News” tab in the Google results. If you don’t see actual articles written by journalists of some kind at the top of the news results, it’s fake or at least unconfirmed. Also, if the sources aren’t from trusted celebrity gossip resources such as People or TMZ (shocker, but they’re really on top of things,) then it’s also not a confirmed piece of gossip. Anyone can have a blog (hi,) preach whatever they want, call it fact, and then start spreading it around the internet. She truly had no idea. (Hi Pepper, love you.) It showed me just how easy it is to con a smart young person into thinking a piece of information is news, when it’s actually a completely fabricated story. Turns out, it’s even more prevalent in “real world” non-news.
I’ve been reading a lot about news sources including the rise of Facebook “fake news.” Fake news is created in two ways- either written by a person with a strong opinion about an issue that goes viral, or by outlets purposely and maliciously creating false content with the intention of targeting gullible participants. While my friend was one of the young people taken by this phenomenon, older people may be an easier target. It’s not to say that older internet users aren’t smart, it’s that they are quicker to believe something they see in print because they come from a generation where print news was trusted, no matter what. They grew up with Walter Cronkite. Journalism was respected and undsiputed.
Now that there is so much information so readily available to anyone in the entire world that can be shared with the click of a mouse, it’s not surprising that misinformation gets around, and quickly. It’s spread by people with similar viewpoints, whether it’s the viewpoint of a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or someone who thinks Britney Spears faked her 2007 breakdown. When the misinformation is shared within the social media bubble of a group of people who share the same viewpoint, it takes on a life of its own and suddenly, Morgan Freeman has died for the 6th time. There’s now plenty of discussion as to whether or not misinformation influenced the 2016 election.
All of this got me thinking about my own news consumption. I get most of my news online, and now that I’m often home with baby, I’m also returning to network news and cable sources. I actively seek unbiased and fact-based delivery, which is why I enjoy listening to NPR, for instance. I also admittedly tend to choose a more liberal bubble. I loved my nightly hit of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert back in the day and I’ve been known to watch a little Bill Maher from time to time. Of course, I’m going to be labeled a left wing freak by some people, and that’s fine with me (#unaffiliated.) I like to think of myself as fair and balanced (lol Fox News,) but yes, my beliefs are definitely more progressive than not. I consider it “common sense.” But that’s just me.
Anyways, in the past I’ve alway made a point to NOT eliminate people from my social media circles just because they have a different viewpoint. I think it’s pretty important to be able to discuss and keep an open mind about things even if you don’t agree. However, this election cycle became so vicious and so hateful, I found myself hitting “Unfollow” on a daily basis. There are family members I unfollowed a year ago, and they don’t even know it. Little by little, I created a more comfortable social media bubble to exist in, and I think many others did the same. Soon, what I saw in my bubble was only information I was comfortable with- though I do pride myself in finding out whether an article is real or fake. I think that’s something most people don’t take the time to do. If they like what it says, they believe it, spread it around, and get REAL MAD. That folks is why we are living with our current situation. We all shut down, got comfortable, and proceeded to get very angry inside of our unchallenged bubbles. If we continue on this way, we will only deepen the divide among us, and who knows what will follow.
I followed Fox News on Twitter yesterday. Also, the president-elect. It pained me, but I felt a need to investigate what the other side is saying, how they are saying it, and what I need to be prepared for. Sure, I have many comments about the difference in tone and presentation between the Fox News website and another more centrist option like Reuters or Associated Press, but I encourage you to come to your own conclusions. How is the same piece of news treated on two or three different websites? Is it even featured on one versus another? How are the headlines different? What is the focus and is it more about grabbing attention or reporting facts? It’s quite the interesting exercise. Be brave and try it sometime.
As we move forward, I think it is our civic duty to work just a little harder to seek out facts, whether they fit our personal viewpoint or not. If we continue to turn away from what we’re uncomfortable with, we are are setting ourselves up for civil war.