The United States has always had a problem with biased media, from yellow journalism to inaccurate Facebook posts. In the age of “fake news,” who can you trust? The good news is, there’s good news.
First, I would recommend reading news from both right and left-wing sources. Even if you don’t agree with a certain perspective, it’s important to not trap yourself in a political bubble. If anything, understanding other perspectives can help you better understand and defend your own views.
Here are some that I personally suggest for balanced reading:
- The Economist: doesn’t fall into a left/right wing political dichotomy, but rather describes itself as being in the “radical centre”
- The Wall Street Journal (conservative)
- NPR (liberal)
- The New York Times (mixed, but leans liberal)
- PBS (moderate liberal)
- The Week (centrist)
- The Atlantic (moderate liberal)
Since the topic is fake news, there’s one source that also needs to be talked about: Twitter. There’s been an unfortunate amount of fake news created and perpetuated by both conservative and liberal outlets. There are two parts to this: treating opinions like facts and actual news itself.
Twitter is for the most part similar to an Op-Ed. If the tweet is not 1) from a verified news source and 2) from a reputable source (such as the official Twitter account of the news outlets listed above), you should treat it like an opinion. This does not necessarily mean that the tweet is factually wrong, it just means that there is no official assurance that the information being spread is accurate. It is critical that if you do retweet from an unverified source, that you do a quick Google search to make sure that the assertions being made are accurate. It is important to do this because it is so easy to simply click the retweet button, which means that this fake news can rapidly spread.
The second, and most critical issue, is the actual news itself. A prime example of “fake news” was when Twitter exploded over reports of black girls in D.C. and Maryland who were going missing at seemingly rapid rates. Individuals on Twitter descended upon this issue in a frenzy, retweeting pictures of the girls and blaming police for not fulfilling their duty. Tweets about this issue went rapidly viral, gaining as many as 4,000+ retweets. Celebrities such as Viola Davis and Santigold sounded the alarm.
When I first began seeing tweets about this incident, my initial reaction was also to be concerned for the girls’ safety and think of the possible racial element involved. But, when I fact-checked this story through sources such as Time Magazine and NBC, instantly it was clear that this information was erroneous.
One of the initial posts which sparked the outrage claimed that 14 girls had gone missing in 24 hours, which was found to be inaccurate. In fact, the seeming “epidemic” of missing girls was completely misinformed. The number of reported missing persons was actually down in D.C. So what was going on?
Well, the D.C. Police decided that social media would be a good way to spread information quickly about missing persons, so they increased the number of missing persons alerts that they posted. This appeared to indicate an increase in the actual number of missing persons themselves. So not only were police actively doing their job (unlike some accusing tweets claimed), but those who were tweeting by the thousands about this issue hadn’t done sufficient research about the topic.
Only so much information can be conveyed in a few meager sentences and there is simply no way that limited dialogue can accurately inform someone on the complexity of certain issues such as race and media portrayals. If you care about activism, you’ll care enough to spend time reading long-form journalism which can delve into all of the aspects of a certain issue. Relying on one to three sentences on Twitter just isn’t enough. Even activism with good intentions can be misinformed. To be a good activist, you need to be an educated activist.
This education comes from reading articles that aren’t only from aggregate sources that take news from a variety of foundational outlets and compile them into a shorter summary. If you’re interested in really delving into issues, the New Yorker, the Atlantic and the Scientific American are great places to start. If you would rather listen than read, there are options! Here are some, grouped by topic:
Bipartisan policy discussion: Left, Right, and Center (KCRW), The Politico Nerdcast (Politico)
Economics: Freakonomics (NPR)
Traditional Conservative Takes: The Federalist Podcast (The Federalist)
Race: Code Switch (NPR)
Liberal Policy Takes: The Bernie Sanders Show (iTunes)
Media also has a tendency to exaggerate in the headlines. After all, the more dramatic the headline is, the more views the article will get. And the more views it gets, the more money they make. Don’t rely on headlines to inform you, read the whole article, do further research on issues that are discussed in the article. If it’s policy related, maybe even read some of the actual proposed policy itself to better understand the details.