2012-01-20

Social Media, Journalism, Opinion.... What Is Truth?

This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately. The current state of journalism here is pretty ridiculous, and the way we communicate with each other and pass information around has also been completely changed by social media, and I think it's really changing the way we see truth. This has all given rise to sites like Snopes, which do factual research on commonly spread 'truths', and report back on whether they are likely to be true or not.

I really started thinking about this during our last presidential election, when Obama was elected. Going through the campaign process, I felt like much of the campaigns of both candidates were simply floating misinformation about the other candidates, without any basis for the truth of the information, and people just gobbled it up. So much so that McCain and Palin had people at their rallies threatening to kill Obama.

We've gotten used to receiving our information about the world in different ways as well. It started with chain emails about one thing or the other, and people would just see it, believe it, and pass it on, never stopping to wonder if it's true or not. Then Twitter happened, and now it only takes one click. You don't even have to read it first, you just have to see a title or something that you initially agree with and click. I'm guilty of having done it myself a few times.

The point is, with the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc - we've gotten used to receiving our news about the world in different ways - through what our online acquaintances are saying. Google has even added this to search results now - if you search for something on Google, and you're a member of Google+, you get results from your circles' Google+ profiles, interspersed with the normal Google search results.

Digital media has played into this as well. I was watching an interview with Talib Kweli, where he was talking about the rumors of people like Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Rihanna being involved in some kind of Illuminati group trying to take over the world, and he was talking about how most of the 'proof' given for these kind of conspiracy theories is doctored up YouTube videos, where it's obvious they've been screwed around with. But people don't know, so they buy into it.

And it seems like our actual journalism organizations are following suit - much of what is written is actually just opinion articles, but presented as real journalism (that is, researched fact, or at least stories with factual basis). These stories are presented as if the journalist knows exactly what they're talking about, and are spun around the globe via the internet, only to find out that, once again, this was just their opinion, and has nothing to do with reality.

I think this is a really important thing to reign in, as our culture can be violently swayed by small un-truths, as simply as having someone famous Tweet it. Sometimes it's not even intentional - you just get ahead of yourself and say something without basis, and it's already too late before you realize it isn't true.

Anyway, I guess the main point is, when you see something, think about it. If it seems odd, or inflammatory, or derogatory or gets you excited to go badmouth someone, check it out first, please.