Where do you get your news? That question has become incredibly important given the results of our Presidential Election. How many times have you heard, “I read a news story on Facebook and …” The problem: Facebook is not a news service; it’s a “social media” site whose purpose is to connect like-minded friends and family, to provide you with social connections, and online entertainment.
For Asian Americans social media provides an important and useful way of connecting socially and in some cases politically, but there is a downside. The downside is how social media actually works. These sites employ elaborate algorithms to track and analyze your posts, likes, and dislikes to provide you with a custom experience unique to you. The truth is you are being marketed to, not informed. What looks like news, is not really news, it’s personal validation. All in an attempt to keep you on the site longer, to click a few more things, to make you feel good about what you’re reading. It makes it seem like most people agree with you because you’re only fed information and stories that validate your worldview.
On the other hand, real news is hard work. Its fact-based information presented by people who have checked, researched, and documented what they are presenting as the truth. Real news can be verified.
“Fake News” is, well, fake, often times entirely made-up or containing a hint of truth. Social media was largely responsible for pushing “fake news” stories that were entirely made up to drive clicks on websites. These clicks in turn generated money for the people promoting the stories. The more outrageous the story, the more clicks, the more revenue. When you factor in the algorithms that feed you what you like, you can clearly see the more “fake news” you consume on social media, the more is pushed your way. There’s an abundance of pseudo news sites that merely re-post and curate existing stories, adding their bias to validate their audience’s beliefs, no matter how crazy or mainstream. It is curated solely for you. Now factor in that nearly 44% of Americans obtain some or most of their news from social media and you have a very toxic mix.
The mainstream news media has also fallen into this validation trap. You have one news network that solely reflects the right wing, others that take the view of the left-center leaning, and what is lost are the facts and context, the balance we need to evaluate, learn, and understand the world. People seeking fact-based journalism lose, because the more extreme the media becomes to entice consumers with provocative headlines and click-bait to earn more money, the less their news is fact-based and becomes more opinion driven.
There was a time when fact-based reporting was required of broadcast news. It was called “The Fairness Doctrine,” a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) policy introduced in 1949 that required holders of broadcast licenses (TV and radio stations) to present controversial issues of public importance in an honest, equitable, and balanced manner. The doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to present these issues and provide contrasting views, the very definition of fair and balanced reporting. But in 1987, the FCC, under President Ronald Reagan, eliminated the Fairness Doctrine, an event that some feel was a contributing factor for the rise of political party polarization in the United States and led us to where we are today in the mainstream media.
So what does this intersection of social media and news mean for you? It means that it’s now a matter of personal responsibility to make sure you’re not consuming “fake news” or propagating misleading information without vetting the facts of the stories you consume. It is your job to become more media literate. To make sure what you are reading, watching, and sharing is true and fact based. To know when you are being informed or marketed to. To question the origin of “news” stories that show up on your wall. To seek out credible fact-based reporting that strives to tell the truth that is so important to a democratic society. To not do this is the ultimate in intellectual laziness.
We all need to support journalistic efforts that reflects what is important to the communities we value and are part of. There is a strong fact-based journalism community in Seattle, news sources that cover Seattle’s issues, with diverse voices like the International Examiner, Crosscut, Seattle Globalist, and the South Seattle Emerald, which are all excellent examples of community-based journalism. We’ve seen where commercial news and social media has taken us when the main goal is to make money; it’s a world we will have to live in for the next four years. Real fact-based citizen journalism can and needs to flourish in the age of Trump.
The International Examiner is teaming up with 21 Progress and industry expert Matt Chan to present the third workshop in a series on citizen journalism on Thursday, January 12 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at 21 Progress, 409 Maynard Ave. S #202, Seattle, WA 98104. $25 for professionals and $10 for students. Visit the event page for more information and to register. The workshop will be focused on pre-production—addressing what to do next once a story is chosen.