What to Do About Fake News
We live in a world of fake news. New polling data suggests Americans distrust the media in overwhelming numbers. Axios reports that 92% of Republicans, 79% of Independents and 53% of Democrats believe that news outlets report fake, false or purposely misleading information. The Knight Foundation shows that ⅔ of Americans believe major news outlets do a poor job separating fact from opinion and that only a quarter of people believe they know that what they’re reading is true. Pew Research Center reveals that Americans are more divided about the role of media than ever before.
Credit Donald Trump if you like; he popularized the modern wave of “fake news” and has certainly done his fair share of spreading untruth, alternative facts, and downright falsehoods. Fact checking Trump has become a national past time. Coming from the man who said, “There's no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts,” this is understandable.
Social media also deserves a share of the blame. Millions of people saying whatever comes to mind, companies pandering for likes and retweets, armies of trolls waiting for something to be outraged over, all in 140 (now 280) characters, isn’t exactly a recipe for success. One pastor said, “we’ve been told that enough monkeys, with enough time, typing on enough computers could produce the plays of Shakespeare, but the internet has soundly demonstrated that’s not true.” There’s wisdom in that. The problem is for the tremendous advantages of the internet, it’s extremely difficult to know what’s true.
There are other reasons for fake news. President Trump and social media are convenient scapegoats, but they are both results of deeper problems. Anyone who’s stepped foot in a college humanities course knows the war on truth is older than social media. You can’t have an all-out assault on truth without finally paying the price. Fake news is the result of decades of relativism in the public square. My version of truth and your version of truth ultimately leads to a place where nobody knows any truth. The disconnect might come from the way we’re accustomed to dividing up sectors of truth. We’ve bought into the lie that truth can be laughed at in one area and valued in another. It’s generally viewed as closed-minded and medieval to assert religious facts. But what makes us think that we can do away with moral certitude and keep historical fact, journalistic integrity, or common sense? An attack on facts anywhere is an attack on facts everywhere.
We find ourselves in a dilemma. We are living in a time that demands we be informed. As Christians, we need to know what’s going on in the world and in our country. We need to be able to speak thoughtfully and compassionately, bearing witness to Christ in our communities. But there’s never been a harder time to know what’s actually going on. One of the reasons we started this site was to be a helpful outpost for Christian worldview. Staying informed, following the 24-hour news cycle, and being on social media has a corrosive effect on our hearts. It’s nearly impossible not to be conformed to the world as we try to stay informed. We cannot afford to withdraw. Love of God requires that we keep our hearts and minds pure. Love of neighbor compels us to be able to engage. Here are five suggestions for staying informed without being conformed.
Look for people you can trust.
The problem isn’t necessarily that major news outlets aren’t publishing accurate stories, it’s that the vast majority of Americans aren’t reading them. The news that sells isn’t first-rate journalism. For all the excellent reporting the NYT puts out, their most popular stories every day are their op-eds. People want short, opinionated summaries. This is a fact of life. Let’s be smart about this. Make sure you have some people on all sides of the issues that you trust, and read them. Focus first on journalism and then on opinion pieces.
Get out of the 24-hour news cycle.
The culture of outrage fuels the media cycle. Stories that were all-consuming two weeks ago are now nowhere to be found. This creates short memories and short attention spans. We’ve been trained to let things go after a few days, and a lot of what’s going on in the world deserves more thought than that. Find a way to get out of the constant whirlwind of information and keep up with things that matter.
Sign up for the Weekly Speak.
Every week we put out a guided tour of the news. We capture the most important, insightful, and enduring stories and send them to your inbox as a part of a subscription through Patreon. Every week you can skim to get an overview or click any of the 15-20 links we provide to go deeper. Here’s an example of what we send from two weeks ago. Sign up here.
Read the worldview and the content
Everybody has an agenda, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Bias is typically used as a derogatory term, but it’s unavoidable. Perspective is good if you expect it. Learn to read the worldview of the author. What reason do they have to say this? What are they trying to make me think, feel, or do? Who are they arguing against? What are they arguing for? Become familiar with the popular worldviews in our culture and read widely.
Don’t believe everything you see on social media.
A lot of it isn’t true; even more of it is only partially true. The biggest fundraiser in social media history, over $20 million, was driven by a fake picture. The money looks like it’s going to a good cause, but how can you know? Hundreds of gofundme accounts have popped up in the past few weeks to help reunite families at the border. There may be some that are legitimate. Most probably aren’t. Social media has some excellent uses. There has never been a better way to access instantaneous news. Twitter has revolutionized sports, investigative reporting, the Presidency, and nearly every other facet of society. Focus on what social media does well; it does a great job of letting you know what everybody thinks about what happened, but often times not so well at relaying what actually happened. Stick with trusted sources for the facts.
What strategies have you found helpful in wading through fake news?
Cole Feix is the founder of So We Speak and a regular writer. Follow him on Twitter, @cfeix7.
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