Is your BS detector optimized to deal with the new realities of democratic media?
Along with the new freedom to create comes more responsibility: The new media ecosystem places an increased burden on all of us to become more perceptive consumers and dissectors of media. In the age of We Media, it’s important that we be able to discern fact from fiction, to separate reportage from speculation and to not become unwitting participants in the latest spam scam.
In short, we need to sharpen our online media smarts.
A couple of years ago I was tempted to write a book called “But I Heard It on the Internet!,” but Farhad Manjoo’s book, “True Enough, Living in a Post-Fact Society” beat me to the punch. Like many of us, Manjoo bemoans a society where anything can be accepted as true if it’s said loudly enough, repeated often enough and circulated widely on the Internet. We’ve become so lacking in basic media literacy skills that an entire segment of our population believes whatever its cultural leaders tell them to, facts be damned.
Every day, when we take a ride on our favorite search engines or tune in to our favorite news sites, we seem confident that we know how to spot the good stuff and weed out the nonsense. But do we?
Here’s a guide to help you optimize your BS detector to deal with the new realities of democratic media.
1. Give your trust to sources that earn it
What’s changed in recent years is that we no longer rely just on traditional media brands for our news diet. Individual bloggers, hyperlocal news sites and alternative media publications now command a good deal of our mindshare. Before you give your attention and retweets to the newcomers, ask:
• Do I know who’s behind this site, or are they hiding behind a cloak of anonymity? Use easywhois.com to find out who owns the domain if there’s no author listed.
• Has the site been around for a while? Alexa will tell you.
• Is there a way for users to leave comments on the site or communicate with the producer?
• Does the news source link to materials that authenticate his report?
• Does the source have a presence on Twitter?
• Are other users linking to the site? Check on Technorati for the site’s “link authority.”
Even generally reliable information sources on the Web aren’t wholly reliable. For instance, just because it’s on Wikipedia doesn’t make it true, as I learned first-hand from people like Forrest Sawyer, who told me his Wikipedia entry is riddled with errors. Don’t take entries at face value — follow the source material to see if it adds up.
What’s important is not whether news or information outlets occasionally slip up –- we all do –- but whether they have mechanisms in place to prevent and correct mistakes. In other words, minor blips notwithstanding, are they earning our trust?
2. Get out of your bubble
A generation ago, Walter Cronkite said that an informed citizen needs to check multiple stories from multiple locations rather than rely on a single news source, whether it’s the New York Times or CBS News. His advice resonates even more strongly today with the rise of hyper-partisan media from the right and the left.
Avoid the media echo chamber, which exposes you to only a narrow prism of views and discourse. A good way to burst your isolation bubble: Broaden your online diet by bookmarking overseas news sites.
Good choices include BBC.co.uk, the Guardian, Finland’s Helsingin Sanomat, Israel’s Haaretz, Australia’s News.com or the Australian Broadcasting Company. Read opposing points of view. Use a news reader to subscribe to a search term like “health care reform” or “Afghanistan war” to funnel in an even more diverse range of coverage. Continue reading