The term “fake news” is itself newspeak, a device to silence opposition. An attempt to part a sea of rhetoric neatly between truth and lies, us and them, right and wrong. If you want to find informative news amid the poop-slinging, it will take effort and humility on your part. Ready?
First off, understand that empirical truth is inarguable. Truth doesn’t need charismatic spokespeople, dramatic music, buzzwords or democratic consensus to be legitimate. Truth doesn’t need to prove someone wrong. As we enter the world of media, drop the concept of truth. We are looking to discern information from misinformation. You will find no truth here, only guideposts by which to base your own decisions.
Tip 1. Learn to spot a pitch line.
Propaganda is simply the marketing of ideology. Most of us can spot a sensationalist clickbait title by now, but there are many formulas. The biggest giveaway is that there is something for sale. TV commercials. Internet ads. Product placement. Even donation pleas indicate someone is trying to get you on board, to align your way of thinking with their own so you will pay for the pleasure of having your biases confirmed. Same with proddings to subscribe/comment/share videos and blogs… in marketing it’s called a “call to action”, and it goes at the end of a presentation to engage the target in action while they are emotionally receptive. If it sounds like I’m describing the entirety of media, that shows you what we’re working with.
Tip 2. It’s not just about mainstream media.
There’s a division being fostered between mainstream and alternative media, each vying for the title of “real news.” MSM claims the authority of being the professionals, recognised by official news corporations and government. Alternative media uses the angle of answering to no master, and being free of politically motivated agenda. As I previously noted of the Smith-Mundt Modernization Act, it arranges dissemination of state propaganda through “press, publications, radio, motion pictures, the Internet, and other information media, including social media, and through information centers and instructors.” That means anyone from youtubers to facebook groups to schools could be actively shaping your thought process.
Tip 3. Be aware of co-opting
I’m noticing a trend on alt media I’ll call guided coopting, particularly on youtube. A member produces content leaning into a certain topic. The video is removed or demonetized. The presenter gets up in arms about censorship, big bad corporate youtube trying to silence the concerned citizen’s message. It gets them street cred for speaking out against the Man. They lean into other topics, and announce that their views & subscribers are rapidly climbing. That earns them more credibility as in-demand content producers, and viewers flock to see what the hubbub is about. They are always seasoned presenters, captivating or inflammatory they have a way of holding the audience. Am I tredding on conspiracy ground by insinuating the powers that be could encourage certain behaviors and topics with inflated youtube numbers? I don’t think it’s far out at all.
Tip 4. Watch the audience reaction
So what does one do when the news that feels authentic may or may not be guided coopting or even plainclothes propagandists? My solution is to watch reactions of people I know reasonably well. Those family members and facebook friends – you have a feel for their sociopolitical views. They’ve made their opinions known on the topics du jour. Try not to engage, just observe. Watch what pushes their buttons, watch what makes them cheer and jeer. When they post a link and say “this nails it!!”, examine the link and see what made their ears twitch. Look for the sensationalism, the emotional tug, the things that get them taking sides. Because the truth isn’t in the story, it’s in the intent. Stop looking at the content of news, and look at the effect it has on the thought processes of those around you. The actions they take. Then the biggest challenge…
Tip 5. Stay neutral.
Lose your confirmation bias. Be your own journalist. Fact check things at their original source, none of this Snopes business or news sites or blogs. The sources are out there, but weeding through them is work. If you can’t trace a claim in googleland to its source, you know what? Your friends probably can’t either. Or the guy on youtube. Or the network newscaster. Your only choices as a completely unbiased news-seeker are to confirm the information first hand, or to set it in the unconfirmed pile to be kept in mind but not allowed an influence in your judgement.
At the end of the day, that unconfirmed report pile will be deep. And that’s okay. Being informed doesn’t mean having an opinion and taking a side. Being informed means discerning confirmable facts from rhetoric. It means knowing which way the wind is blowing.