Staying local your best choice for news - Denny Scott editorial
The internet is a wonderful thing that, at its best, allows us to view the world through perceptions we might never consider. At its worst, however, it becomes an echo chamber where prejudices are confirmed and differing opinions are treated as heinous crimes.
Much of the latter is because humans tend to be tribal. Originally, that just meant finding other people to share fires, food and shelter with for safety’s sake (and going to war alongside), but in modern society it means finding people with whom you have similar beliefs, which provides its own kind of safety.
For some people, that means ignoring certain people on Facebook or blocking others on Twitter. The true benefit of the internet (the free exchange of ideas), however, is then ignored or blocked and it becomes just another way for people to reinforce their own beliefs while ignoring those contrary to them.
As they’re wont to do, the big players in the digital landscape have found ways of capitalizing on that.
Take Facebook, for example. While everyone should know that, just by being on Facebook, you’ve become a commodity, what they may not know is that Facebook is helping to further insulate those echo chambers from outside ideas.
Facebook knows who you are: it knows your political leanings from the stories you click on to the images that catch your eye. It sells that information to advertisers (including the names of its users in some cases) who can then pay to have their advertisements in front of specific people.
Take something innocuous for example, like my own enjoyment of board games. Because I often shop for them, and often look at used board games through Facebook Marketplace, you can bet I’ll see advertisements for board games.
It’s not always used quite so innocently, however, with aspects of individuals’ preferences like political leanings being sold as well.
Even Google does it, though not to the same extent. While Facebook sells people, Google sells demographic data and also uses said data to decide what it is you’re searching for.
For example, if you use a virtual private network, you can convince Google (and other websites) that you’re accessing the internet from different parts of the province, the country or even the world.
Some of the demographic-influenced searches make sense: if, for example, you search for “local newspaper” in this area, the first result is The London Free Press.
If you use the same search in Boston (or with Google thinking you’re in Boston) you get The Boston Globe and the New York Daily News. Likewise, in Edinburgh, Scotland, you get The Guardian and a list of of newsbrands for the United Kingdom.
It goes beyond that, however, with search results in traditionally conservative areas sometimes leaning that way while areas that vote liberally provide left-leaning results.
Don’t worry - if you’re searching for something specific (say The Citizen in North Huron) you will always get that, but if you’re looking for something generic, you’re not getting the unadulterated responses. Instead, you’re getting a curated response.
Why does that matter? Well, odds are you are reading this column in The Citizen (with a smaller, but growing number of people accessing it online) which means you’ve made a choice about where to get your news.
Because you’ve made that choice, you likely know how we report things and are content that you are getting the full picture.
However, that choice may be taken away from you if you’re searching for your news through popular search engines.
While the internet has opened all sorts of doors for those looking to research everything from local news to world events, those sources are only as good as their reliability and that can be hard to discern in this day and age.
For some things, the pre-internet ways are still best. When you put your faith in your local newspaper, television or radio reporters, you’re choosing someone you know (or can get to know) and decide whether they are reliable and trustworthy. When you put your faith in Google’s algorithms, you’re getting something that could be, at best, filtered through your demographic taking some of your agency away, or, at worst, showing you something that only further isolates you from differing opinions. The choice is yours, when it comes to news, but that choice is easier to make if you rely on local sources.