With Today's Media, What Information Can You Trust?
Five Rules for Surviving Our Age of Media Bias and Mass Confusion
According to recent polls, American citizens' faith in government correlates to their trust in media--just under 30 percent. In comparison, and despite the lack of confidence in either, most Americans still believe in a need for both institutions. So how do we proceed from here?
At its best, the media acts as a watch dog for citizens, exposing government scandals and infringement of people’s rights. At its worst, it creates propaganda, acting as the very impetus for government corruption. So what type of world do we live in regarding information?
Most people (wrongly) assume that human development is always linear: i.e., that any society that existed before we did was archaic and less capable. However, this clearly isn’t always the case. (E.g., aside from sheer speculation, we still have no idea how the Great Pyramid of Giza was built.) While we possess amazing technology that the world has perhaps never seen before, the essence of humanity is still the same—selfish, greedy, and eager to pacify curiosity with easy explanations by inadvertently ignoring inconvenient data and whitewashing the truth, which is that we live in an increasingly complicated, very dynamic and oftentimes confusing world filled with varying shades of gray.
Put a caveman in a car, and you’re likely to see the same choices being made by people in our society handling this relatively recent technological phenomenon that allows for instant worldwide contact with anyone and access to virtually any information desired. In this same sense, the media, which is a powerful group of individuals that carries the ability to mold the perspectives of millions of people in an instant, is the metaphorical cavemen in the car. While their intentions may be good, there’s no guarantee that they can successfully operate the vehicle to their desired location. It’s too new, and we’re still catching up.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the concept and application of media; however, if truth is one’s goal, administering trust in any one company or individual is clearly an ill-founded, bad idea. Trust itself implies eager belief as a result of the inability or unwillingness to determine the facts. Yet excluding belief from one’s mental arsenal is a very trying, often limiting venture into intellectual isolation, for how can one function in today’s world without believing in some source of media? How can a person keep his sanity in today’s age while gaining enough reliable information to survive?
Rule 1: When deciding how to approach information in today’s world, take the emphasis off whom and shift it to what.
Information is either accurate or inaccurate. People are much more dynamic in that they can provide elements of truth or lies, have good or bad days, have special interests or personal goals, etc.
Rule 2: Separate the objective (i.e., the facts) from the subjective (i.e., personal stances and assumptions), and remain skeptical.
Skepticism will prevent a lot of unhappiness. It’s safer to assume the presuppositions of information—the who, what, where, when and how—are true...at least most of the time; though when it gets to why something happened (in regard to intentions or goals) or what action ought to be taken (what policy should be implemented), a healthy dose of skepticism should be administered, since the intention and right action each delves into the realm of subjectivity, leaving the audience at the mercy of unseen intentions one medium may carry.
Rule 3: Verify the basic who-what-where-when-how information with multiple sources.
This is taking a stab at the likelihood that if multiple news agencies are willing to stake their reputations on the basic facts being provided and the information is the same across the spectrum of multiple agencies, then the information is probably true. At least it’s enough to provoke further investigation and analysis on your end.
Rule 4: Don’t take sides.
It is the mark of the fool to argue against one’s character instead of his argument. And it is the antithesis of truth to choose to believe someone or some news agency that you like and then discount all others because you don’t like them. By resorting to one news agency while demonizing others and accordingly deciding what to believe, you are no longer looking for information at all; instead, you have merely become the zealot you (probably) once ridiculed.
There is a chance that all news agencies are wrong yet they may still believe what they say. Remember this possibility when choosing what information to trust.
Rule 5: Get up close and personal with the evidence.
Remember, if you really want to know more about something, you’re ultimately going to have to experience it for yourself. If you want to know more about wrestling, watching the Ultimate Fighting Championship will give you some basic information; interviewing fighters will give you an insight into the personalities and struggles each had to go through to succeed in the cage; and you might even experiment by drilling different pins and escapes.
Just remember, though, that nothing ever replaces the experience of scrambling to improve your position after being exhausted from someone trying to submit you. It is the same with researching an issue: if you directly observe it and experience it for yourself, you don’t need to rely on anybody else’s testimony. Sometimes you have limited choices, as in the case with an event that happened in the past with limited evidence available. The point is, though, even in such cases, if you care enough about a topic, you’re going to have to get your hands dirty and dig into the evidence as much as you can.