In 2019, after 25 years of internet for us mere mortals, we have more or less unlimited access to a world of online information and news. Ironically, this seems to have made it harder than ever before to discern what is true and what isn’t.
Four years ago in the pre-Trump era, not many people gave a toss about so-called fake news. Personally, I only became absorbed in the ethics of traditional media after watching a UK tabloid literally hunt down and destroy a friend of mine.
But boy, things have certainly changed since then. The concept of fake news is now on everybody’s lips. Unfortunately this change hasn’t made people any better at distinguishing between fact and opinion. They say that the first step in solving any problem is recognising there is one, so why does it feel like we’ve taken two steps backwards instead?
No quality (control)
For more than a hundred years we have had journalists and editors to do quality control of stories that enter the public sphere. They have checked facts and figures and presented us with their findings. Whenever they failed to fact check their stories properly, someone else usually found out and loudly lambasted them for their mistakes. This has created an unconscious belief that anything published in papers, radio or TV must be true.
Now these ingrained beliefs have been shaken to the core. In a world that’s being taken over by social media, this element of journalistic quality control has suddenly been removed. Anybody can publish a story and once it’s out there being posted and re-posted around the world; suddenly nobody knows where it originated. If you repeat something enough times, people are bound to believe it. In other words – If it has gone viral, it must be true right?
We have indeed entered a post-truth era, so much so that if a polititician doesn’t like the facts he or she is presented with, they cry fake news and paint themselves as a victim of nefarious forces trying to stop their message, and voila – problem solved!
Traditional media is struggling. Not many want to pay for something the can get for free online. So they end up with two choices. One, they can follow the tabloids and online media into sensationalism and misleading headlines. Two, they can stay true to the code and “seek the truth and report it”. The latter option is a lot more troublesome, it requires research, hard work and time; and the benefits might not be immediate or financial. That is why so many, even those branding themselves as serious media, is treading a slippery slope and focusing on content that can bring in immediate advertising revenue.
In other words, it is getting increasingly harder, even for well-educated and well-read people to figure out what is up and down, and knowing where to go for reliable information. When we are constantly bombarded with new information, there’s no time to critically assess and contemplate what we see and hear. More than ever we need media that we can trust to tell us the truth; not to spin it in a way which only serves to make money.
However, I’m determined to see light at the end of the tunnel, and I do think there’s hope yet. In my current job within financial services, I’ve met many passionate and hardworking money journalists, dedicated to helping people and enable them to make informed decisions by seeking the truth and reporting it. I tip my hat to you and wish you luck in your battle with trolls and click-bait purveyors.