The Danger of Fake News

By Michael Kay | USA

In a world where 57% of the US gets its news through the television and other mainstream news sources (CNN, Fox, Breitbart, BuzzFeed), it becomes critically important that the information is accurate. However, with the rise of Donald Trump, the media has to make a decision: Will it be the messenger of facts, or will it be a political tool?

First, some background.

In Charlottesville, Virginia, a controversial statue of Robert E Lee, the infamous Confederate leader stood. The state of Virginia (or municipality of Charlottesville) elected to remove this statue, on the basis that it gave honor to a horrible person who fought on the wrong side of history. However, as is usually the case, there was opposition to this, in this case coming in the form of neo-Nazi white nationalists. They decided to protest this statue’s removal by protesting with tiki torches late at night, and then proceeding the very next day to assemble in a rally, complete with flags with swastikas, and shouting obscenities such as “Jews will not replace us”. The problems with this kind of rhetoric are obvious, but none the less, technically legal under free speech laws. In addition, however, an anti-fascist group known as Antifa showed up in counterprotest. The showed up wearing all black, with ski masks, pepper spray, and other tools for a riot.

What followed was one of the scariest riots in the last decade. People were pushing, shoving, throwing rocks, hitting each other with flags, and of course spraying pepper spray. At the peak of the riot, (insert car driver’s name), a neo-Nazi, drove a car into the crowd, injuring 19 and killing one.

However, it’s important to recognize that these aren’t random occurrences. These events are fueled by a fire of emotions, and those emotions are controlled by the media. I think that both sides are to blame for this. On the right, organizations such as Breitbart, Fox, and Infowars, all organizations who have the potential to be truly informative sources, and who, for the most part, are honest media sources, often demonized, and exaggerate certain political ideas, and opponents. The right isn’t alone in this, though, as the left is just as bad, if not worse. Media organizations such as NBC, ABC, and CNN, who used to be credited as great, honest sources, now have turned into 24-hour news corporations, who will overblow any story in order to fill some time. But this is also exacerbated by social media sites like Facebook, which trap us into echo chambers where we only hear views which we identify with, and agree with.

This obviously seems theoretically harmful, given that we value truth and honesty in society (or at least we say we do), but there are also real-world impacts of the polarization of the mass media. In most healthy democracies, but also in productive discussion, opposing ideas are disagreed with (obviously) but treated with respect, and at least some legitimacy. However, increasingly, as a result of the polarization of media, we see opposition ideas being misconstrued as opposing individuals, and those individuals being viewed as an existential threat. This is a problem on both sides of the political spectrum, and most major media outlets are equally to blame. But moreover, this makes it incredibly difficult for the average person to be moderate, which has its own set of political consequences. For a highly intelligent person (as I’m assuming most of you reading this are), critical thinking, comes easy, and so we don’t take the media as the single truth. However, the average American has an IQ of about 98, and then you must consider that half of those people are even dumber than that. So for many people, we cannot assume they will dismiss news as “fake” even when the information being received has no logical background. If I simply take information from CNN, to be honest, and more importantly accurate, I then must reject information from Fox as lies treachery. But even if I wouldn’t normally do that, a great amount of the mass media, such as the Daily Show with Trevor Noah and The Colbert Report, depicts a large amount of the opposition (to their ideas) as bigoted, and wrong, which pushes viewers into a position where they can only agree(and hate the opposition), or disagree (in which case they feel targeted, and often become bigoted). If a person feels like a major establishment is demonizing values which they identify with (such as coming from a Southern state), they are much less likely to truly engage with the opinions of the media, which would start a potentially fruitful discussion, and more likely to instead go on the defensive, and reject all notions that the “left” (or in the case of FOX, the right) is in fact bigoted, and the enemy.

So why do we actually want more moderates? This question is best answered by characterizing why someone IS a moderate. We don’t actually need the person to identify as moderate, but rather we want people to at least listen to the opinions of others, in order to fully consider all options. I don’t mind someone who is radical if they are able to engage in productive discussion with the opposition, but unfortunately, in practice this in incredibly rare, and we instead end up with many bigots.

In terms of solutions, I think they are relatively simple. First, balance production staff, with people all over the political spectrum, that way there in input from all sides. At 71 Republic, despite openly calling ourselves a news site directed towards libertarians and moderate conservatives, we have a proud Democrat as one of the executives. If the intention of a given site is to propagate a specific opinion, that’s fine too, but A) make it explicitly clear that that’s what your intentions are (so that people know to also look elsewhere if they want a balanced approach) or B) From time to time feature commentators with opposing view in order to at least give your viewers/readers a taste of opposition that isn’t written by someone who is actually from the opposition.

At the end of the day, this is an incredibly complex issue, but I think that for the average reader, the best thing to take out of this article is that you will never hurt yourself looking through opposition news and that often it will actually make your opinions and arguments stronger, now that you truly understand what the opposition looks like.