In today’s age of information, it’s hard to get facts you can trust. Discrediting information that contrasts with personal worldviews has never been easier thanks to the rise of social media and the wide variety of news sources available today. Information—accurate and inaccurate—is out for anyone to interpret, manipulate and present in any way they like. This leaves the truth vulnerable.
Up to 67 percent of Americans reported getting some or most of their news from social media in 2017. However, social media isn’t regulated like traditional news outlets. There is no way personal accounts can be held to the same journalistic standards that professional reporters uphold, and there are no standards of accountability for social media.
Donald Trump is well-known for posting false information in the digital world. Despite waging war on fake news, the president is ironically guilty of spreading misleading and inaccurate information through social media.
Trump recently tweeted about property control in South Africa: “I have asked Secretary of State to closely study the South Africa land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers. ‘South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers.’” While there is a motion in the South African government to take back land previously seized by white colonists under racist property laws, Trump is facilitating white supremacist narratives that perpetuate South Africa’s devastating colonial past by spreading false information about “the large scale killing of farmers.”
However, social media isn’t the only place bias slips through the cracks. Newsrooms across the country are pushing invisible political agendas: a consequence of biased news curation, politically bent ownership and overbearing corporate control.
Enthusiastic supporter of the Republican party Rupert Murdoch is a prime example. Murdoch owns Fox News and other news companies and doesn’t separate personal beliefs from editorial content. Murdoch’s news organizations have given large sums of money to the Republican party and his companies lean heavily on the side of conservatism. Despite obvious bias, Murdoch’s political influence in news media remains consistent, partly due to key approval from the president.
Other news companies are playing the same game. In April 2018, Sinclair Broadcasting Group found itself in hot water after requiring local station news anchors to read a script on “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one-sided news stories plaguing our country.” People took this to be a push for conservative agendas, though Sinclair claimed to have no political motive. However, when a multi-million dollar news corporation gives local news stations programming and content scripts, it raises criticism and valid concerns about how people will get accurate and genuine news based in their community. Will any news source be trustworthy if the same organization signs their paychecks?
With political bias potentially tarnishing our local and national news streams, and with the leader of our nation only making matters worse, how can we stay educated in a world so full of dirty information?
We can start by understanding where news comes from. Looking into individual and corporate ownership of news sources and examining political or personal bias is paramount. Where the story is coming from can be just as telling as the information presented in the story.
Information and news can be discredited and manipulated in ways that muddle the truth. In this new age of information, it’s more important than ever to fact check and take ownership of personal media consumption habits.