Corporate controlled media is nothing new to us. We know that if media can be owned by companies, it can also be controlled by them. Though conscious of media’s proclivity to lean to one end of the political spectrum, many of us were a bit shocked to enter (read: be catapulted into) an era where “fake news” and “alternative facts” might apply across that same spectrum. Donald Trump and his camp have not only questioned media sources and biases but by using those specific terms, they have called into question all available information and data, journalistic integrity and a shared reality – all while framing popular media as the only culprit in manipulating the masses. When Donald Trump and his team coined these terms, it’s uncertain if they were aware of the potential risks involved in encouraging millions of people to distrust not just one source, but every source.
Yes, Reality Bites
Our generation is no stranger to overwhelming amounts of information and deliberate attempts to mislead or coerce us with it. After the events of 9/11, many people around the world awoke to the media’s attempts to skew perceptions surrounding the events leading up to, during and after the attacks. Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 revealed to a much wider and connected audience that Fox News and other major media outlets were not only owned by very few entities but that they purposefully and repeatedly digested and interpreted information for us – with specific intent to control response and gain favour. This population of viewers witnessed history being written by the winners and a generation of young people quickly came to realize that they were taught different versions of histories, where many voices were missing or deliberately erased. Many of us learned to question facts even before the infamous term was coined by history’s latest winner. By calling facts into question, Trump has declared a war not just on the media that he believes is after him, but on logic, reason and science. When research into matters such as evolution and climate change is discouraged, or outright denied, it impacts much more than theoretical discussion and affects how humanity reacts to future challenges and change. What the mention of ‘alternative facts’ and ‘fake news’ does now, for supporters of this terminology, is create a culture of dependence on, or worship of, one source of information. Coming from a world leader, or authority figure for many, this is propaganda and manipulation at its finest.
Reality is of our own making – our understanding of the world is influenced by what we read, what we see, and how we interpret it. While the internet shares data, connects people and builds upon this understanding, the ability to interpret the information is critical. Companies are marketing products and targeting us through our activities on social media and in turn, we market ourselves right back, skewing our perceptions and our abilities to differentiate between what is real and what is not. One of the consequences of the inter-connectedness of the internet is the flood of information coming at us quickly and from every angle. This means that in order to form an educated opinion, readers now have to slow down and interpret the information presented to them. They have to learn or force themselves to triangulate the data and sources presented to look beyond them – which in our ‘instant-gratification’ society means that we have to read more than one article, all the way through, on any given subject. What a pain, right? On the other hand, this is to be expected – our most widely consulted sources of information include an open source encyclopaedia that can be edited by anyone, social media comments and threads that are censored or monitored, and articles written in list form that dilute information and intertwine it with lists, gifs, or memes.
Yes, We Can Handle the Truth
Luckily, we do have people who are willing to make time to research, investigate and verify information before they write it or share it. As seen through online activity, it is clear that there is an interest in healthy and informative dialogue amongst readers, sharing links and resources, and questioning what they have read. In addition, this generation, unlike those before us, has the option and privilege to review video footage, statements, and articles ourselves in order to investigate things like the Bowling Green Massacre, paid protesters, public opinion, and civil unrest around the world. As more and more people question what is presented to them, more and more people will demand quality and hold their sources accountable. If we can filter through click-bait headlines, we can make it through alt-facts and fake news and whatever comes next. Perhaps the next step forward will include reclaiming and diversifying news sources. History really is written by the winners; we have no choice – we now know what we need to become.
By Izabela Wlodarczyk