Forum: Beware of fake news
For a few months now, I’ve felt “fake news” floating in the air almost everywhere I go. I could have sworn that the leaves rustling in the wind today were whispering “liberal bias.” Every raindrop seems like a fallen tear for alternative facts. It’s confusing, and it’s a mess.
But before we all get swept up in a quasi-tornado-hurricane of unreliable sources, I think my generation, “Generation Z,” at least deserves a warning.
Not a warning from our dear president, Mr. Fake News himself, not a warning from a parent, who honestly believes that the phone you’re reading this on is the source of all resentment in the world, either. No. This is a warning from one of your own, a fellow teen, here to talk real news.
We are easily the luckiest generations in human history. Smartphones and internet give us access to all of the news we could ever want (plus more) in seconds.
Rather than waiting for the next morning’s delivery newspaper and cup of coffee to learn about the Syrian chemical attacks, or the latest story in the ever flip-flopping Trump administration, we learn what’s happening right now within minutes, whether it’s 7 in the morning or just before midnight.
We have access to more sources than we could possibly need. Any old monkey with a phone who wants in on the latest breaking news needs only enter a few keywords into a search bar, and voila! More than 6 million results in under a second. Trust me, I tried it. And here I was thinking Ramen Noodles were fast and easy.
We have what our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and so on, never had with their news. We have choices. We never held the newspaper in our hands. (Frankly, the only time I interact with newspapers at all are when they’re on my grandmother’s kitchen table, and, lately, when washing windows — they clean perfectly, streak free!)
The point? We never saw the front-page headlines in big, bold titles, so we were never limited by the front pages outlining exactly what news is most important. For the first time, we’re able to pick that news for ourselves. So yes, we’re a little spoiled.
What does this mean for our generation? I believe it was Voltaire who first said “With great power comes great responsibility.” (A quick Google, but I welcome readers to challenge that.) We read short tidbits of news and ledes, but all too often, we don’t get to the thick of the truth. In that way, our access is a “double-edged sword.” Most of us get news from online media apps (I prefer to read off the BBC, NPR, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox etc. apps every morning), or, increasingly, from Snapchat and Facebook.
It’s pretty comforting, actually, to know that I don’t just have to listen to what Liberal A or Conservative B has to say, and I don’t have to buy the newspaper to hear those opinions, either. The broad range of choices in itself is not necessarily the problem.
But with everything we could possibly want to know just a thumb swipe away, we never have to wait for the punchline, and we absolutely have no reason to develop patience for it.
In the time it takes my dad to finish one of his all-too-repetitive “dad jokes,” I can read at least six articles about anything from Planned Parenthood to the Iran deal without having to move an arm for so much as a page flip.
We have no reason to remember the stories read earlier in the morning, either. If we forget, we can always search the keywords and find the article we had read within seconds.
But if we aren’t careful, we could seriously suffer from a simple generational lack of attention span. I know, embarrassing. When we’re so used to juggling a thousand issues in each hand, (or, more likely, two thousand in the hand holding the smartphone), it can be hard to sit down and pay full attention to true, quality, in-depth journalism. It can be hard to buckle up and read a full story when we have access to the bite-sized Sparknotes of the real issue.
So now let’s think back to the whole “fake news” debacle I mentioned earlier. By fake news, I don’t just mean the crazy doctored up news like “Hillary stands with ISIS,” or dare I mention, the infamous Pizzagate scandal. I mean the type of news that we’ve read and can rattle off a fact or two about, but we don’t know. The type of news that we take for the truth without getting to the meat.
I first noticed this issue when Neil Gorsuch, then Supreme Court nominee, was going through confirmation hearings. My phone started blinging off the hook one day with notifications from upward of five news sources, all with some variation of the headline “Neil Gorsuch says he ‘would have walked out the door’ if Trump asked him to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
I cannot even tell you how many people read the headlines, a few lines of these articles, or even the entire article, and decided that this was some indication that Gorsuch was in fact pro-choice. It’s those people who completely missed the point of his statement.
If they had watched the raw footage in context, they would have understood that rather than being pro-choice, Gorsuch was simply stating that he wouldn’t overturn, simply if Trump asked him to in a private meeting, Roe v. Wade, because it’s been upheld many times, and he adheres to precedent.
The “real news,” the raw news, shows that he’s simply a judge who values integrity and precedent rather than partisanship. Out-of-context interpretations from quick headlines create the more dangerous form of “fake news.”
This fake news happens quickly, and it spreads even faster when we’re so used to reading those quick one-minute ledes that we don’t fact-check or track down to its source. With all of the information we could possibly want, let’s learn to pick the right ones.
As the next generation of young leaders, we’re going need some real truth to guide us, and a whole lot of it. And yes, we’re likely to accidentally inhale some “fake news” along the way, especially if we’re not careful with our quick, short breaths of morning news. But thankfully, it’s not too late for us to breathe deeply, and work our millions of sources to our advantage. It may take more patience than our generation is used to exercising, but now we’ve had fair warnings, and I know I’m ready to try.
Emily Lawson is a Woodbridge resident.