These days I am left thinking that the flood of ‘fake news’, baseless scare-mongering and other rubbish pouring over and around us from Facebook – and the internet in general – has reduced news to village gossip.
Back in the old days – by which I mean less than ten years ago – journalism involved ‘fact checking’. Even freelance articles were peer-reviewed, if they were high enough profile.
That still happens where magazines have the budget to do it, and there’s still some solidly researched news out there. But around all that there’s the gossip. It’s unverified, often absurdly over-stated or obviously fabricated. Usually it’s polemic. But people believe it.
Part of the problem is in the personal ‘validation bubbles’ produced by the way social media – especially Facebook – works. Fake news is tailor made for such ‘bubbles’ – and its rise, to a large extent, is very much a product of the way not just Facebook, but all social media, frames interactions.
What’s missing, it seems to me, is a sense of cynicism. Not the ‘doubt everything’ cynicism that leads with dizzying speed to conspiracy thinking. I’m talking about reasonable, common-or-garden cynicism that causes us to ask reasonable questions – to be curious, to look beyond the surface; and to look for contexts.
That sort of thinking isn’t usually taught at schools (it certainly wasn’t in New Zealand, when I was at school) – but it’s a kind of thinking that is becoming more and more essential as social media, particularly, exposes us to the wider world in ways earlier generations couldn’t dream of.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2017