Due to the abundance of information we refer to as the internet, we are not bound by our physical capacity for knowledge. Our devices can divulge any and all information that happens to be freely available. Therefore, it becomes maddening to determine true from false. The sheer time required to do our own research rather than refer to an article is extremely limiting.
Moreover, information is constantly being thrust into our consciousness. News publications are not bound by their medium and appear constantly on our phones, online, and on social media like Facebook and YouTube. A variety of news sources should be beneficial to society by adding new perspectives and being sure to address all the information available. However, in recent times news publications have become more like sources of conflicting narratives than objective analysis of events. The core content of a news story doesn’t change between sources if the information is objective.
How Do We Deal?
Due to the volume of information presented, strategies are employed to make understanding easier. Maybe the most common, many people choose to mainly rely on a television or internet personality that appears relatable. There is a strong tendency to listen to those with a similar world view to ourselves. Furthermore, people tend to rely on just a few internet or television sources to compile all their news information. People will decide that certain sources are not to be trusted. In order to limit the flooding of information and limit the time spent on understanding the world around us, people consider less information than is presented.
Is there a Problem Here?
For convenience sake, cutting the time that is required to stay informed sounds great. For society, stifling the flow of factual information is detrimental. More specifically, these behaviors of searching for information that agrees with specific ideals or limiting the intake of information by discounting sources helps form an identity that is synonymous with political ideology. By watching or listening to information that fits our biases the identity is strengthened. While common, politically based identities are detrimental to societal understanding and intrapersonal relationships. “Identities” are limiting, information that doesn’t align becomes increasingly unbelievable until one doesn’t bother to verify the validity of anything.
For the person who has developed a strong identity, information or ideas that deviate from their own may be viewed as negative. Conversations may be perceived as arguments and disagreements as battles. Today, examples of strong identities overtaking rational discourse are prevalent. In order to maintain a level head and stay informed, we need to know how to navigate our own information stream. Following are the best easy methods for keeping your wits about you:
- Common Sense
- While it may seem silly, this is the most important aspect available. When something is presented as factual it is difficult to notice the disparity from the truth. Shocking items or items that fit conveniently into the expected narrative have a high likelihood of inconsistencies. Just by simply considering the likelihood and researching the topic further, one can generally determine the truth with accuracy.
- Suspicious Ear
- When consuming content, it is beneficial to maintain a suspicious nature. Most scenarios involve one group that gains and one that loses. When reading or listening, both sides are often forgotten and the one being presented is the one in focus. Considering the opposite side is often beneficial.
- True Professionals
- In many publications it is common for “professionals” to weigh in with an interview or quote. Unfortunately, the quality of a “professional” can vary vastly. Some are truly great sources of information and some are not. Unless someone is truly at the top of a field, they are unlikely to be a great source. Researching their achievements will quickly lead you to determine their reputability.
- Primary Sources
- This is an extremely under used concept for media consumers. All articles or publications have primary sources. This includes a document or item that holds the original information taken or created at the time/event in question. This is the basis of reporting and news media. Accessing these items is generally easy and made freely available online. Scientific and governmental organizations freely publish vast amounts of data on their websites, most of which is reported on in our media. Considering the data yourself is always beneficial when interpreting the news.
- Fact Checking Resources
- Obviously, doing the research yourself from the primary source is the most reliable way to verify anything. Yet, when faced with fact checking the statements made by politicians or even the news the process can be far too time consuming. There are some well operated organizations dedicated to fact checking such as Factcheck.org, operated by the University of Pennsylvania, or Politifact.com, operated by the Poynter Institute. These institutions can be great resources but must be heeded with caution. Pay attention to how an organization is funded and if primary sources are included in the articles, these can help determine if a publication is to be trusted.
- New Era News
- Because of the prevalence of highly biased, misleading content there are new types of media sources being developed. These types of sources promise less bias and offer far less bulky content. Newtrals.com is an example of a new era source. The articles are written in a brief summary fashion with links directly to the source material. They are terrific resources who provide the necessary information and allow you to form your own opinions about the event.