Inside Alabama Politics

With new technology comes a ‘news’ problem

| Opinion

by Jeff Martin

Once upon a time, before social media and cable news, everyone received their news from the same credible sources. The information wasn’t doubted and it was generally considered to be fair and honest reporting. Growing up, each morning front lawns would be dotted with the morning newspaper and each evening adults would gather around the television before dinner and watch one of the big three newscasters of my generation; Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, or Dan Rather.

Not so much anymore and it is becoming a big problem. Somehow the ‘mainstream media’ has become the boogieman of this current election cycle.

We all have witnessed the recent decline in the newspaper industry and most people can no longer name one-network newscaster, not to mention all three.

With new technology comes a ‘news’ problem.

People have gravitated to getting their news from sources they agree with politically and often such media platforms are biased and typically emphasize just one-side of a story simulating an echo chamber for the targeted audience.

Sometimes we don’t even realize we are getting only half of a story. Take Facebook for example. The majority of your Facebook friends probably have similar beliefs as you do and therefore you are more likely going to be bombarded with only one-side of the news and views, minus that one Bernie Sanders friend we all have. And then there are those friends who share multiple political stories a day, most from suspicious partisan sites disguised as news that have never been heard of, whose sole purpose is to manipulate and distort the news.

To make matters even worse, Social media sites target individuals with advertising and marketing campaigns with like interests. Facebook goes as far as identifying users as either liberal or conservative and uses this information to determine the type of advertising and news that shows up in your newsfeed.

In a recent article technology reporter Timothy Lee said, “Social media sites like Facebook have democratized the media landscape, allowing anyone to create and distribute content to their friends and family. There are a lot of good things about this, but it’s also proving to have a serious downside: Without the quality filters traditionally supplied by mainstream media outlets, there’s a lot more room for total nonsense to circulate widely. The increasing polarization of news through social media allows liberals and conservatives to live in different versions of reality. And that’s making it harder and harder for our democratic system to function.”

Even cable news channels that claim to be “fair and balanced”, often have personal agendas and feed viewers with biased news. And while there might be some resemblance of truth in the reporting it is typically skewed towards one particular viewpoint. Most of these ‘news’ channels show more commentary then actual reporting of news, so much so, that it becomes hard to distinguish what is news from the opinion of a liberal Rachel Maddow from MSNBC or conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.

According to Cognitive Psychologist Amanda Crowell, you should never surround yourself with just people who think just like you because doing so has a terrible impact on one’s critical judgment and causes people to make less informed decisions.

I’m not suggesting reading an opposing viewpoint will or should change your mind, but it will make you a much more informed and smarter individual. Not only should we not avoid what people we disagree with have to say, we should seek out information from the opposing side. Because even though you might feel well informed because you have read extensively on a particular topic, if everything you are reading is the same view point you will remain trapped in a news bubble. Remember, just because you read it a dozen times or Uncle Jimmy posted it on Facebook doesn’t necessarily make it true. There are always two sides to a story.

Tuesday is Election Day and it can’t come fast enough for most of us. Regardless of the outcome, God willing we will all see the sun rise Wednesday morning and if that isn’t enough to be thankful for, I don’t know what is.