Too many people are perfectly happy to get their information only from sources that reinforce their world view, writes Roger Plothow.
After last week’s column on fake news came out, a Facebook friend indirectly challenged me to write once a week on the topic for a full year.
I laughed it off, of course. And then I thought some more (and this is always where I end up in trouble). “Why not?” I said to myself. If folks don’t want to read that much about it, they can always turn the page, I reasoned. So, welcome to week two of a 52-week serial on news literacy and related matters.
Much hand-wringing is being given over to the grave task of learning to separate fact from fiction in today’s media-saturated world.
Is it really that difficult, though? Can’t just a little common sense and a little critical thinking go a long way?
There’s nothing particularly new about preferring to receive information that reaffirms our preconceptions. Way back in 1945 Roy S. Durstine wrote an article in Advertising & Selling magazine in which he articulated what many of us often think: “Don’t confuse me with the facts.” “Fake news,” in fact, isn’t exactly a new idea. John Adams and Benjamin Franklin were expert practitioners of it.
But they didn’t have the internet. That’s a game changer, and it requires a higher level of vigilance.
The idea of critical thinking goes back to Plato and Socrates, of course. Students have been studying Socratic questioning for centuries, but its fundamentals seem lost on us today. One of the basic pieces of Socratic thinking is this simple concept: “How can you verify or disprove an assumption?”
It doesn’t take the ancient Greeks to assist us in this effort, however. Spend five minutes with any web site based on advocacy or feeding conspiracy and you’ll sniff it out if you’re serious about really trying. On the right there is Brietbart, InfoWars, WND and the like. On the left, Countercurrentnews, OccupyDemocrats and Bluedotdaily are equally shameless in selling advocacy as news.
Charlatans come in many guises. We recently received a letter from a reader that included this: “… are you saying Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Fox News Contributors (sic) are not credible news sources?” It’s hard to know how to respond to that question beyond a simple, “Yes, that’s what I’m saying.” That same letter-writer concluded his note with this: “The liberal media has lost its credibility with white America, and you’re part of it, meaning the Post Register.”
That doesn’t leave much to work with. But, I think, most people have a more sincere desire to deal with facts. I’m sticking with my belief that people who see Hannity and Limbaugh as “credible news sources” and who use descriptive terms like “white America” do not represent the greater Idaho population.
The first step toward attacking the incessant incoming pinging of bad information is to have a desire to differentiate truth from fiction. The worry is that too many people are perfectly happy to get their information only from sources that reinforce their world view – to remain comfortably inside their bubble, as it’s come to be known.
Without a sincere willingness to be informed, there is no chance to get to the truth. Too many people will accept as fact the most outrageous fiction because they like it, and that is bad news for everyone.
Roger Plothow is the Post Register’s editor and publisher. You can write to him at 333 Northgate Mile, Idaho Falls, ID, 83403 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.