The internet has provided mankind with an interconnectivity that it had not known beforehand. Ideas can be spread, information can be dispersed and news can be broadcasted faster than ever before. This advancement has led to scientific discoveries, a sense of world community in the wake of tragic events and the freedom to share pictures of your infant baby every single day.
With these new abilities comes a danger for consumers of news, as it is now possible to find a seemingly well-written piece that agrees with absolutely any point of view. The kind of debate it can spark can be important, but can turn ugly in the wrong hands.
Click-bait, inflammatory headlines from “news sources” online strike fear in social media users, spreading propaganda to enhance their biased narrative or bring users to their sites. These articles are often opinion pieces disguised as hard news. They are designed to manipulate readers’ minds by feeding them a point of view instead of giving them the facts of what is happening.
Sharing these reports is a dangerous practice, as sometimes it is difficult to discern these articles from real news. They may be littered with fake or out of context quotes, lending fake credibility to an otherwise hollow piece. The site itself may also seem realistic, with titles such as “The Conservative Tribune” or “National Report.” Whether these sites use their readership to advance a narrative or stir up fake controversy, it makes things dicey when it comes to discerning what is real news and what is not.
These misrepresentations of information go beyond fake news articles. Internet memes — while oftentimes light-hearted and silly — have a tendency to push the envelope as far as the truth goes. Taking a quote from President Obama and superimposing it, out of context, over a photo of a wounded soldier can be deceptive and paint the quote in a context that it was never in. That’s not to say that memes are bad — there’s nothing inherently bad about a Minion and an outdated joke — but when political debate takes place in these memes, it becomes an issue.
Taking the time to be active consumers of news is something we, as a society, need to practice. Ask questions about reports. Is every angle being covered here? Is there a visible bias in the writer? Is the site itself reliable? If there are other articles that could fit in seamlessly with the Onion, it might not be the most reliable site to share on your Facebook wall.
Spend a moment actively reading and understanding what exactly you are dispersing. If, as a whole, we become engaged with what we are reading and circulating, our political discourse itself will improve along with the quality of our media.