Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Check facts before repeating

In the face of hidden agendas, manipulation, half-truths and flat-out lies, how is anyone to recognize credible, factual information?

Sifting through the nonsense that’s woven into our news sources has become tireless work. Why should we be responsible for fact-checking every sliver of information we read? It’s the job of news outlets to do so for us. What do we do when liberal and conservative narratives become more pertinent than the plain truth? Misinformation has spawned monumental consequences and has begun a domino effect.

We consume poorly crafted news only to regurgitate it to others. Those others will either agree, disagree, spit back up what they ingested or counter with opposing and factual information. But, it doesn’t end there. When we’re faced with statements that challenge what we perceive as fact, we get defensive. Our teeth show, and we morph into dogs with toys in our mouths that we refuse to let go of.

If what someone else is saying doesn’t resemble what we believe, we don’t want to hear it. We don’t want to listen to other people’s opinion the same way we don’t know how to handle criticism. Generally, we don’t like confrontation, and so we’ve categorized argument as a whole as such. If we’re afraid of arguing, then we’re afraid of debating. And if the art of debating is lost upon us, then so is the value of making well-informed decisions.

SUNY Plattsburgh provided a glimmer of hope Feb. 1, when its Division of Student Affairs hosted an open discussion at the Angell College Center Ballrooms in response to the immigration ban.

There, students and faculty voiced their concerns and thoughts on the matter. There was a sense of fear, frustration and confusion throughout the room. International students expressed their discomfort and questioned their permanence here in the U.S. But, as more audience members shared their thoughts, compassion and unity emerged. There were even a couple of Trump supporters in the crowd who added to the dialogue and defended the president’s actions. They also graciously thanked everyone in the room who countered with their perspectives.

What amounted was rational and respectful expression of thoughts and ideas. The crowd was plentiful at its peak, but not overwhelming. This makes me wonder just how many of us are willing to exit our bubbles and hear others out. During the discussion, Assistant Professor in Journalism and Public Relations Michelle Ouellette emphasized the importance of picking non-partisan, trusted news sites.

Relying solely on obviously slanted news sources such as Breitbart, The Blaze, The New Yorker and Slate is dangerous. It’s not that these sites don’t provide accurate information. But it’s ill-advised to see how only one side of the political spectrum is interpreting the news. It’s also important to keep away from the deep end of news media, which includes sites like Infowars, which flaunt headlines such as, “Lady Gaga To Conduct Satanic Ritual at Super Bowl LI” and “Judge Blocking Trump Border Defense is Treason.”

According to Quantcast, a technology company that specializes in audience measurement, Infowars.com reaches more than 21.6 million monthly visits globally.

The correlation between poor and manipulated news coverage and people’s ability to debate and learn from one another is clear. People are spewing falsehoods, sometimes unknowingly because of their blind trust in their sources.

We all must determine for ourselves which news sources are worthwhile. We must take time to verify something we heard from someone else before spreading it further. We need to seek the truth, not decorate our own narrative. We have to show empathy and actually hear people out before force feeding them our opinions. Free speech affords us more than saying whatever we want. It allows us to challenge one another’s beliefs and learn from our diverse points of view.

Email at Steve Levy at cp@cardinalpointsonline.com

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