Online news can take many forms, but I want to focus on the reliability of mainstream network media in their broadcasting and online platforms.
The ‘decreasing objectivity’ of online platforms have made the web a polarisation machine. (Simpson, 2012) Politically, for instance, the right tend more towards the right; and the left towards the left. As Digital Differences also showed, online divisions occur as a result of macro and microscopic schisms, including differential online exposure to political materials. The word agenda is thrown about considerably in modern news parlance, but understanding exactly where each author or news outlet sits on the political spectrum is a quick method of distinguishing the reliability and authenticity of news articles on polarising issues.
Don’t Be Conned By Graphics
As the MOOC eluded to, visual data can be a quick and deceptive way to mislead. Size and brightness of graphs or objects definitively ‘outweigh their contextual information’ and graphs like Fox News’ below can trick viewers scrolling down a newsfeed. (Harris & Schwarzkopf, 2011)
Considering the raw data, and making graphs appropriate of the facts they represent, lessens the extent of misrepresentation of information. The graph below is how Fox News should have presented the data.
Even if, therefore, the source of the data (here, the US Department of Health and Human Services) is reliable, internet users must take the time to assess the authenticity of the representation of such data.
Changing Norms of Information
Societal norms are far different today than when major media outlets were founded, and their principled coverage of events can sometimes be manipulated through rapid and radical changes in discourse. Listen below for more information:
Bad news spreads faster than good news, fake news spreads faster than the truth. Truly, the best way to ensure what you read is reliable is by understanding the agendas of the platforms on which it is released, and by considering wider debates – regardless of how fundamentally opposed they are to your own views.
Collins, Keith, ‘The Most Misleading Charts of 2015, Fixed’, Quartz, December 2015, <https://qz.com/580859/the-most-misleading-charts-of-2015-fixed/>.
Harris, Julia, Chen, Song & Schwarzkopf, Samuel, ‘Contextual Illusions Reveal the Limit of Unconscious Visual Processing’, Association for Psychological Science, Vol. 22, March 2011, <http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797611399293>, pp.399-405.
Maza, Carlos, ‘How Trump makes extreme things look normal’, Vox, December 2017, <https://www.vox.com/2017/12/21/16806676/strikethrough-how-trump-overton-window-extreme-normal>.
Simpson, Thomas W. (2012). “Evaluating Google As An Epistemic Tool”. Metaphilosophy. 43.4: 426–444.
Vosoughi, Soroush, Roy, Deb & Ara, Sinan, ‘The spread of true and false news online’, Science, Mar 2018: Vol. 359,<http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6380/1146.full>, pp. 1146-1151.
Wyatt, Samatha, ‘Dishonest Fox Charts: Obamacare Enrolment Edition’, Media Matters for America, March 2014, <https://www.mediamatters.org/blog/2014/03/31/dishonest-fox-charts-obamacare-enrollment-editi/198679>.
3 thoughts on “Assessing Reliability and Authenticity on the Web: Mainstream Media”
I really enjoyed reading your blog. I thought your comparison of the two graphs was very eye-opening! I can imagine a lot of people would be fooled by tricks such as this. Do you think that every political broadcast has a left or right wing agenda and there are none that lie in the middle of the spectrum? I really worry for young impressionable people when it comes to fake news and politics as it is not always easy to decipher the intent of a news article if you’re not well educated on the topic. Do you think this needs to be spoken about more in schools?
Let me know!
Hi Stephanie –
I don’t think that every broadcast has a specific bias, and indeed some individuals defy the norms of the wider platforms in their content. For instance, Fox News has been accused quite considerably of being a Trumpist propaganda machine, but regular host Shep Smith – although a conservative Republican – has refused to unapologetically support Trump. Looking further back at American broadcast news, Keith Olbermann was once dismissed by left-leaning MSNBC for seeming to be too radically leftist on air. So often it’s down to the individual!
I think that tone and intent are very important in the assessment of information, but I’m not wholly sure that their deciphering can be taught – just like you can’t really learn to have a sense of humour. But definitely, lessons in how you can go and find out about people’s intent, through research, would be increasingly useful in the network age.