The problem with fake news isn’t just fake news. It starts with you. It starts with the lack of fact checking, partisanship, our social media echo chambers and the problem with education.
When I was in middle school back in the early 2000’s, it was right in that period before the smartphone, when the internet was still only on desktops or really expensive laptops and when MP3 players were clunky things that held over 500 songs! This wasn’t too long ago, but looking at my current iPhone and the Motorola Razor I had back then…yeah, it looks like ages.
When I was in school (and when many voting age Millennials were in school) I was taught that books and the written word were king. That was it. It was that simple. When you needed to find information, you’d go to the library, a repository of all the information you could possibly want, and grab a book. The written word was where information came from. There was no discussion about the legitimacy of published sources, no breakdown on the slants different media resources take: Republican, Democrat…etc. Published work was there to inform, period.
In those days when the only place you’d find a computer was the library, Wikipedia was shunned. You couldn’t use it as a source of information because it was the very thing teachers and administrators feared that the internet would later become: a place of misinformation. If they only knew that Wikipedia was actually and is actually a really well organized and maintained place of information.
Imagine these kids who were taught that the printed word was king, that anything published was a source of real information. Imagine what these kids would do when confronted with an article that wasn’t real on the internet. It looks real. It’s printed.
Then, the internet became even more accessible. Smartphones made everything easier: fact checking, watching videos of kittens and browsing Facebook or Twitter. Like the library, the internet became this source. It’s a repository of information. But unlike the library, printing and publishing work is really easy. The printing press is at your finger tips. You can sign up for a website free of charge and post whatever you like. Doesn’t have to be real. This has made fact checking even harder.
With the rise of social media so many of us are getting our news from Facebook and other social sites. Now you can easily find fake news articles posted on Facebook. I see these articles posted on Facebook all the time. No one thinks to fact check because it’s printed and print is king. Print is true. Except it’s just not that easy anymore.
Right now we are seeing the effects of the school system’s failure in understanding the internet. We are seeing our own misunderstanding of the internet. This is not the only issue. Another issue came out of the school system.
In schools you are taught to write persuasive essays. This was a big thing in middle school, high school and in college. Let’s persuade each other. Find information that supported our conclusion and persuade the reader. This is not the way to develop free thinking. This is not the way to develop a critical eye.
You’re asking people to think subjectively, the way they want to and find evidence to back up preconceived conclusions. That’s not how you find information. That’s how you mislead yourself and others. You can’t pick and chose facts as you like and suppress other information to inform a reader. That’s not how you inform.
We saw this all throughout the election season. People hated Clinton. They despised Trump. They read articles that sided with them, ideas that they agreed with and didn’t try to look at the picture as a whole. They were happy with their facts. People’s Facebook feed was an echo chamber where all they saw were people who agree with them.
If we were all taught to be objective. To write essays in school using all the information, trying not to show a side, but instead show the issue itself, devoid of polarization, we would not only have a more informed society, but one capable of understanding that the big picture is an important part — that objectivity helps build empathy and understanding and breaks the barriers of partisanship. We’d also have more critical thinkers, critical eyes and less people falling pray to fake news articles.
It always comes back to education. We were taught that print is king. It isn’t. Anyone can publish material. It is up to us to fact check, to try and understand what is being said and to go beyond our small avenues of social media to understand the other side and to understand the society we live in.