The Media

The Media

Mr. Neuner

Perhaps you saw it a couple weekends ago. Shortly after Russian troops invaded Ukraine, a viral post on Facebook and Twitter spread world-wide showing Ukrainian road signs being re-worded to, instead of give proper instructions, to say an expletive aimed towards Russian troops. It quickly became a rallying cry for those who support Ukraine against Russian aggression.

The problem? The story was fake.

Yes, Ukrainian transportation officials did change the road signs – but only to point Russian troops in the wrong direction. By the time the real story came out, it was too late; the story had been seen by millions.

Or perhaps you’ve found yourself in the same situation I did recently. A family member asked me if I supported the FDA’s plan to distribute crack pipes – for free – in low-income communities around the country. I calmly told them that what they had read wasn’t true; the story had been thoroughly vetted and debunked by several news outlets, including the Associated Press, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

“That is ‘fake news!’” they responded. “You can’t trust them.”

Where had they gotten their information? “Facebook.”

I read a meme a few days ago that said the most unreliable sources of information are “I heard” and “I read.” It got me thinking – how does an advanced society progress when individuals silo themselves into consuming information that confirms rather than confronts their biases? Can a liberal democracy even function when each of us are consuming our own version of truth?

This is a profound question that I don’t pretend to be able to answer here. But, I wanted to share my own experiences in hopes that you, the future generations that will be challenged with ever-advancing technology, can grapple with changes that my parents and grandparents are struggling with. In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, I often found myself at loggerheads with members of my family and some of my closest friends. Where once we could have civil debates about immigration levels or the social safety net, now I often found myself being angry, frustrated, and, frankly, confused.

How could we have grown so far apart?

But then I realized why – we were consuming our news and information from very different sources.

Some organizations were providing analysis; some were providing emotion. In between, candidates up and down the ballot were dumping fuel on already simmering tensions. The war over information was playing out – and is still playing out – on my Facebook newsfeed and my Twitter timeline.

Following the Jan. 6 insurrection, I had enough. I stopped posting my political commentaries on Facebook, I started removing friends and followers that I disagreed with, and I retreated into my own safe zone. I put myself in a silo.

What worries me most is a trend I see among my own friends. If you are pro-life and I am pro-choice, I cannot interact with you. You won’t wear a mask? You can’t come over. I voted for Trump, but you voted for Biden; sorry, I can’t be your friend. We are not a stronger society when we limit our interactions with those with whom we disagree with.

I hope we can start by lowering the political temperature. News that you disagree with isn’t fake; it’s vital to having a healthy understanding of each other. Don’t disengage because you don’t like the answer. Learn to disagree critically and civilly. Develop a critical filter to distinguish what is news, what is opinion, and what is truly meant to deceive and inflame.

As the media environment gets more complex, media literacy will become more and more important. Bad actors are going to use social media to drive us apart. Challenge yourself to think beyond your own silo. Stay informed – the health of our democracy depends on it.