In the era of social media and minute-to-minute bulletins, news is starting to move farther and farther from the truth. Headlines are sensationalised, quotes are edited and photos are used out of context to “motivate” the readers to click. It seems that media around the world are competing with each other to see who can make their news more alarming, who can trigger the most emotional response and whose story goes viral. And in this pursuit of virality, news organisations appear perfectly willing to deviate from facts and sacrifice accuracy.
Now, fortunately, this isn’t as huge a problem in Nepal as it is in a country like, say, India. Most media that claim to be national and mainstream here make an active effort to verify their stories before publishing them. But the problem is, people are reading these “mainstream” media less and less. On social networking sites and Google search pages, these media are being overtaken by smaller, less professional news portals who have no qualms about flat out lying to get views. The frightening state of YouTube journalism (if we can even call it that) is not hidden from anyone.
Admittedly, till now, it is only a small fringe engaged in unethical journalism but it is a loud fringe. They have the tools and knowledge to trumpet their content, which in some cases is completely manufactured, on platforms like Facebook and Twitter where people see it, believe it and spread it. Many times, it just causes a social media frenzy with no harm done but that does not mean that it does not have the potential to cause real damage. An emotional public is an unthinking public who may resort to undesirable actions if they feel they need to – if the media makes them feel they need to.
This is why fact-checking the media is important. This fact-checking can be done by other media too. In fact, there are entire outlets solely dedicated to analysing and verifying news stories. But, fact-checking is most effective when the readers themselves do it. And many readers do want to, they just do not know how.
Well, the easiest thing to do is to read the full news. Many stories with outrageous headlines and provocative photos contradict themselves in the news. They present no evidence to base their claims or, in some cases, the news is not related to the headline at all. So, reading the full news can be an easy first step for readers to take towards fact-checking.
Another thing news consumers can do to confirm the validity of the information they are getting is research. If something feels fishy, check its source. Contact the people or agencies involved directly or see which other media has reported on the same issue. A simple Google search can reveal a lot of things. Readers should not accept – and share – any news, especially if it is provocative. Everyone should do their own research.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, people should check their biases. There is nothing wrong with having beliefs and ideologies but our news sources should not be limited to them. A conservative should not only consume conservative news and a liberal should not only follow liberal media. Just because a news report confirms our feelings does not mean it is accurate. So, we must open ourselves to opposing perspectives and must be open to answering the questions our rivals ask of us. Once we overcome our biases, then we can implement the above two steps to make sure we do not fall prey to misinformation.
We will never be able to eliminate falsehoods and inaccuracies but we can at least minimise our exposure and reaction to them. Any step against misinformation is a step in the right direction.