Our access to information is at unprecedented levels, but our ability to determine the accuracy and even legitimacy of that information is at an all-time low.
While a few keystrokes can generate hundreds of thousands of sources on countless topics, the layers of the Internet – and social media especially – have become labyrinths where propaganda and all-out lies are eroding the public’s ability to become properly informed.
Research by News Media Canada, which represents hundreds of Canadian print and digital news sources, found that 63 per cent of Canadians are unable to distinguish between legitimate and fake news and 65 per cent worried that information was being used as a weapon.
Those are startling numbers and we expect that the rhetoric coming from the United States means a similiar study would yield similar results, which means there are more than 200 million people between our two countries who have lost trust in the media.
It’s not surprising considering how often people scream “fake news” at anything they don’t agree with and find sanctuary in a sea of echo chambers and “alternative” news sources. It doesn’t help that leaders are using this growing uncertainty to further erode trust in the media. Why not? It works in their favour to discredit the people charged with holding them to account. People are now more likely to attack the messenger and that means popular leaders can act with impunity.
A legitimate news source should challenge one’s way of thinking, it should fuel debate and at times it should spark anger. If all it does is confirm a way of thinking and foster allegiance to certain causes, then it’s probably not a reliable source of information.
Even if you remove those big ideas of holding government accountable or creating dialogue on important issues, newspapers – especially small-market papers – have another important role, they are a part of what weaves a community together.
It’s ironic that as newspapers push for residents to shop local, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to garner the same support as they compete with the likes of Facebook. Social media platforms do nothing to support local families; the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world simply get richer.
Newspapers are at a crossroads unlike any other time in history. The Internet has proven to be the adversary that TV and radio were not.
While print might be old technology, it can be trusted. It comes to your door and is not clouded by a million results in a search engine. Community papers are run by people who care for their communities and employ writers and journalists with a desire to inform as objectively as possible.
Dwindling newspapers in favour of online "alternative news" are proof that sometimes advancement is not improvement.
- Reprinted from the Cochrane Eagle, a Great West newspaper.