Contrary to popular belief, fake news is mostly confined to fringe and alternative media outlets, which are ironically trusted by those who love screaming “fake news!”.
For people with basic media literacy, fake news can be easy to detect. Unprofessional languages , excessive or absolute reliance on stock footage and photos, absolute reliance on hearsay, anything which compensates for the absence of corroboration.
Most of the time, the news in mainstream media outlets are not… you know…. fake. Even though it does employ questionable languages at times, it also uses actual footages and photos of the stories in question and the journalists interview people on the ground, things which alternative and fringe media often forgoes.
The reports are technically factual. But, that does not mean they are trustworthy.
For one, they can present the facts using dishonest angles, which they often do.
You can report on problems caused by marginalised minorities. But, hyper-fixation on them means you depict those politically powerless people as the biggest trouble-makers and ignoring the system which puts them in their current situations.
You can grill individuals who hate the establishments. But, let’s not depict the powerful establishments as some kind of powerless and angelic underdogs who deserve our sympathy.
You can interview bigots, extremists and snake oil salesmen. But, let’s not pretend all opinions are scientifically, factually and morally equal.
You can report religious extremism. But, if you focus only on the extremists and detractors of the associated religion while ignoring the peaceful believers, you will inevitably depict an entire religious group with the same brush.
You can report problematic behaviours of some activists. But, don’t use their SJW-esque behaviours to ignore the sincere grievances other activists have.
They are technically factual. But, there are false balance, biases and omission of certain details which can provide us the full contexts.
They compel us to lionise, demonise and be dismissive towards undeserving individuals and groups. They compel us to perceive certain situations as more complicated or simplistic than they really are.
The title of this blog seems to insinuate that dishonesty is a bigger threat than fake news. Well, that’s because it is.
It is not to say fake news in fringe media and the people who consume it are not dangerous. They certainly are; from time to time, we have witnessed extremists – like it or not, fake news embracers often have extreme views – inflicting widespread harm upon their respective societies.
But, as I have said before, fake news is – more of than not – brazen; for anyone who possess the most basic media literacy, it is extremely easy to detect it.
Extremists are also easy to spot, as long as you dissect their beliefs and acknowledge there are such things as bad opinions. You don’t even need to wait for the violence.
But, dishonesty of mainstream media is trickier. Not only refuting deceitful viewpoints is significantly a lot more difficult than debunking on-the-nose misinformation, you also have to convince the average media consumers that statements of facts can still misguide them and there is something to read between the lines.
I personally can attest how difficult it is to persuade people – even the smarter than average ones – into acknowledging the abstract. For them, people like me are nothing but conspiracy “theorist” who see non-existing patterns and should learn to take anything at face value.
Do I have a solution for this?
As someone whose university major is media and communication, I do believe the answer is a yes… a reluctant yes.
While the practical skilled I learned (e.g. creating PR plans and writing press releases) did drastically decrease my gullibility, they never gave me different lenses to observe media content with; they were given to me in social science and humanities classes.
I also have this observation about other people: the less they are educated in social sciences and humanities, the more likely they take media content (or anything, really) at face value. Either they are not used to thinking abstractly (thanks, education systems!) or they hate questioning the conventional narratives because it feels like questioning their normal reality.
In fact, I am certain the latter is the reason why many people hate liberal arts. They want to learn what and how things work, they don’t want to question whether we should do them or not.
I know this sounds anecdotal. But, surely, we can agree that recognising subtle deceit like the one of mainstream media requires the ability to read between the line, grasp the intangible and even question our own perceptions of reality.
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