The Blanket Media Dilemma

by Richard Bolton

Part of the rigmarole to be accepted into a prestigious UK public school’s 11+ entrance exams was to keep up to date with current affairs by reading magazines such as The Times and Economist.

The goal of this task was to improve conversing by informing. Enabling students to hold their own in discussions, whatever the subject broached.

These well intentioned motivations overlooked the indoctrination that was going on all this while. What I was reading shaped the way I see things today.

Things that are not constrained to a fixed worldview, but instead in constant flux.

Naturally, there is bias in the vast majority of the media. I thought by varying my reading between different approaches to the same issue would nullify the bias in various forms of media.

This non-introspective consumption of endless news from around the world did broaden my horizons. However, it also served to make me absorb information as it was presented to me. I wasn’t being trained to filter the wheat from the chaff. The good from the bad. What I was left with was largely swathes of useless information and a mindset that this was the way to become smarter.

Wind forward to the modern day, we spend a great deal of time exposed to media, whether through Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, email newsletters and articles.

Simultaneously, there has been a collapse in reputability that has arisen from uncertainty muddying the waters. From clickbait to politically-motivated agendas, or catchy headlines and juicy stories, all with little concern for the truth and an audience mindlessly lapping up every throwaway caption or provocative headline.

Take the plea from ABC Australia that told the general public Sir David Attenborough’s message was to put out water and sugar solution to save the bees, or else we all perish.

This was later debunked by beekeepers and Attenborough himself, with the BBC demanding Facebook take down the fake news.

This is a textbook example of people blindly jumping on the bandwagon without skepticism because of an indiscernible appeal to authority with the world’s most renowned conservationist, being used as evidence for an argument’s conclusion.

Fake news stories state their claims as true because ‘so called’ authority figures have said so rather than taking a step back and applying any logical reasoning or providing any evidence to support the claim.

Other, more serious instances have been doctored or just carry factually inaccurate captioning, as the war photos in Syria and Yemen showed.

The particular images are cherry-picked as the select evidence to feed to the general public in order to persuade the audience to accept a position, and evidence that would go against that position is withheld. So the undiscerning public, subject to snippets of truth and captions that target their emotional capacity, allow themselves to jump to conclusions. A snap decision that precluded the many factors one should consider when making a judgement call were ignored. In short, reasoning was abandoned.

Fear mongering spreads rapidly on social media sites, as the online panic over the alleged news of nuclear radiation traces found in sea life off the coast of California from the Fukushima plant exhibited.

This is the fallacy of alphabet soup. Overuse of acronyms, abbreviations and occulted language convinces people into thinking they know what they are talking about and therefore must be right – and coincidentally, they are wrong and ignorant to boot.

The problem is the deliberate decision to obscure the message with terms the audience is unsure of. When it comes to radiation dispersal patterns, most readers will not be informed. A redress to this imbalance of information could well be a simply google search of ‘radiation in water’ or a reverse image search to ascertain the veracity of the claims.

The reality is we spend a great deal of our days exposed to media in its various forms. We pay different media stories and breaking news differing levels of attention, but we should be conscious of the messages it sends our way.This makes a case for responsible consumption.

If we are uninitiated, sharing or commenting without reflecting on the story, we are only acting as mindless vessels to disseminate these harmful narratives, pushing whatever agendas they may aim to promote.

Media is a reflection of society, but this works both ways.

To address this, one should be aware of ideologies that underlie the media. Awareness distinguishes the imposition of false norms from a narrative we can glean useful information from or at least reflect reality.

Critiquing the outputs allows us to adhere to better quality journalism. Not taking stories at face value and also giving yourself time away from media enables creative thinking and introspection where great ideas are generated.

Treading carefully, fact checking and deploying reason and logic to assess whether what we are presented with is reality. Then all the red herrings politicians used to avoid answering the question would have shown much of their position baseless.

Teaching early prevents mindless consumers of media who don’t question what they hear or see. Without critical thinking and time away from the pessimism that drives the news, society will continue to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and prevailing dominant norms because they don’t know otherwise.

We can now counteract these false stories with new tools at our disposal – a healthy dose of skepticism, reason, the internet, alternative news outlets for comparison, and the ability to fire a quick email to an expert to corroborate the findings.

We can now tell and promote our own stories. Ones that used to be unheard and unknown can now gain the attention and reach they deserve at the click of a button.

And maybe we can recapture some semblance of perspective – that we can give a civil war, a mass pollution event or heart lifting story that had been swept under the rug the exposure each deserves. As opposed to some insufferable fake news or a celebrity breakup scandal dominating our headlines.

Let us strive instead toward some better selves, wherein the old adage ‘the truth shall set you free’ prevails triumphant.

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organisation as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing various opinions. If you’re a student interested in presenting your perspective on this blog, click here to submit a guest post!

Image: Pixabay

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