Really, it's up to you - Shawn Loughlin editorial
Though I didn’t necessarily plan it out this way, here is the third installment in somewhat of a series on media literacy and a bit of a peek behind the curtain detailing what it’s like to be a reporter these days.
Despite the idea of fake news being weaponized and tokenized, it is a real problem. The whole idea of fake news – at least by that new name – came about because of U.S. President Donald Trump and far-right websites actively spreading misinformation to influence the 2016 election. But, like everything else, Trump has turned accusations made against him back on his enemies, calling award-winning news outlets “fake news” when their reporting inconveniences him.
Fake news is annoying, frustrating and harmful, but the real problem is media literacy. If everyone had a decent level of intelligence, critical thinking and media literacy, fake news would sink like a stone, waved away like the baseless junk it is. Unfortunately they don’t and people the world over, especially in North America, fall prey to fake news every day.
Because people don’t check their sources, conduct their own research or question the veracity of what they’re reading, fake news is in the ideal environment to flourish. In the world of digital media and social networks like Facebook and Twitter, people don’t think, they just share, doing what used to be a news outlet’s work and distributing their product far and wide. And with attention spans dropping all the time, often it’s hard to get a reader past a headline on Facebook before they begin repeating what they’d read as a fact.
Just over the weekend, Trump Tweeted a baseless conspiracy theory connected to deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. The “story” said that due to pre-existing conditions and other illnesses, the country’s COVID-19 death count was actually a miniscule six per cent of what was being reported. It was later flagged as misinformation by Twitter, but how many people read that and believed it because Trump Tweeted it before Twitter stepped in?
When I read a headline like that, something so shocking and against the commonly known narrative, my critical thinking muscle kicks in and I wonder who is saying this, who the source is and whether or not it can be believed. However, too few people do that these days.
Consider this story from the Toronto Star on the weekend about Erin O’Toole. Thousands of people followed her on Twitter and began sending messages of both support and hate aimed at the new federal Conservative leader.
But wait, I said her. That’s right, a female, 25-year radio veteran from Colorado was engaged in this discourse with thousands of people who thought she was the new candidate for Prime Minister, despite that Erin O’Toole being a middle-aged white man from Bowmanville. These people messaging her cared enough to delve into politics, but weren’t smart enough to look at her profile, picture or any information about her and figure out that she wasn’t the O’Toole they were looking for.
A story like that says way too much about society these days. At The Citizen, we are always fighting to get our stories in front of the right eyeballs. We work tirelessly to be right about what we report, so for one misleading Facebook post or biased “news” story to catch fire and undercut the work of professionals can make your blood boil in this business.
We can work as hard as we want, but if people aren’t going to do their part; asking questions, applying common sense and only trusting the trustworthy, truth could easily be eschewed in favour of convenience.