There’s been a lot of buzz lately about fake or unreliable news and how Facebook intends to deal with it. To be honest, I’ve kind of skipped over it as a bunch of nonsense. Then a Facebook friend recently posted a list of Unreliable / Fake News sites and sources, to which I made the passing comment “There’s no such thing as reliable news.”
Clearly, by the response, I insulted his world view (it’s a gift) “Yes there is! Saying that just reinforces this crap. Good journalism where they verify the facts before publishing exists. That’s not to say that a journalist can offer an opinion on the facts but most of these websites just make shit up.”
You see, when I say that there is no such thing as reliable news, I’m referring to the simple fact that all news, even the so-called reliable sources, is written by humans and is subject to having the facts interpreted, warped and manipulated through the biases, emotions, and beliefs of the writer.
For truly reliable news it would simply be a list of dot points, stating all the facts only, with no usage at all of emotionally leading language. Very few people would read or listen to this as there’s nothing relatable, nothing to draw you in. Even with this kind of reporting, if one fact was left out, it has the potential to lead the reader to make judgements in one direction rather than another.
The written word is, in its purest form, the manipulation of language for a desired outcome. I use the term “written” when referring to all news, as even when spoken on TV or radio, it is first written down. Once language becomes part of the equation, even when reporting only the facts, it can be presented in a way to sway the reader to make certain judgements. Even if the journalist or whoever is writing the news is unaware that they are doing it, all news will point the reader to make a judgement.
Allow me to give you somewhat of an extreme example with everyone’s favourite villain; The Nazis!
“Hitler’s Nazi Germany systematically murdered around 6 million Jews and another 5 million non-Jews. Whereas the allied forces are reported to have only killed 2.3 million Germans.”
All of this is fact that can be referenced at these two links at Wikipedia.
No one will dispute the facts. However, the wording, even in the trustworthy Wikipedia, is very manipulative. Simply by using the emotionally loaded word “murdered” in reference to the deaths of Jews, as opposed to the sterile and somewhat emotionless “killed” in reference to the number of Germans killed, sways the reader to take on a moral judgement that the Nazis were worse than the Allied forces. And that may well have been the case, but that’s a moral call that only an individual can make. By the writer choosing to use different words to describe what is essentially the same action and result, they are guiding the reader to make the moral judgement they want. In this case, that the Nazi’s were worse.
As soon as there are words written down and constructed into sentences and paragraphs to tell a story, it is no longer a reliable source of facts. Language is manipulative and incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to construct and write without being persuasive in some form. For this reason, ALL News, even so-called factual news, is unreliable and a source of manipulation toward the audience.
On a personal note; I quit my News addiction about two years ago and noticed a massively positive effect on my life. The only news I receive now is through friends and family and the occasional glance at Facebook. All hugely filtered and filled with biases to my way of thinking. Have I lost anything? Sure… Fear, anxiety, frustration, anger, etc. Basically, all the negative emotions that journalists like to stir up in people. What I’ve gained are time, freedom and a more positive mindset. A worthwhile trade if you ask me…
By understanding the ways in which we are being manipulated, empowers us to make better choices on the information we consume.
Are you still consuming the news? What would happen if you didn’t?