Misinformation, Propaganda, Fake News. Whatever you call it, it’s dangerous.

A normally prudent person may consider how different the world is compared to late-1941. The gatekeepers of information have given way to a world full of citizen journalists, so one would think that something like the Holocaust could never happen again. But we must remember that it wasn’t what the evildoers did that made it so permeate, it was what the ordinary citizens didn’t do. That’s because the wrong kind of information delivered in the right way can lead straight to the same outcome. It’s what propaganda did in 1941, and it’s what fake news is doing today.

Over the latter half of the last decade, we became targets by bots and trolls that aim to fuel misinformation in the social media sphere. And until the social media conglomerates release new software that can find and eliminate fake, misleading and propagandist material, it’s up to us to take charge against it. Fortunately, there are two ways for all individuals to beat online propaganda, and it all starts with the one thing we have now that those in 1941 didn’t: the World Wide Web.

Follow As Many New Sources As You Can

Image: Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Many of us are under the assumption that every news source will get it right. For some of us, we may only see a select few as being the bonafide truth. And then there are far too many who just don’t care. But the real truth is a little unhinged. We’ll let Robert Evans, America’s famed film guru, explain:

“There are three sides to every story:
your side, my side, and the truth.
And no-one is lying.”

You see, truth itself is an unstated fact. It can only be found in the surrounding evidence. You know there are bushfires ravaging Australia’s east coast, not because someone told you, but because you see the pictures and videos. You see the harrowing calls for help. You see the brazen aftermath.

However, if you follow each news outlet as they report on them, you will find how different each story can be. That’s because telling compelling stories requires some sort of emotion. And emotion harnesses a disconnect from facts. All those stories on the bushfires are true, of course; they are just told with individualistic flare. The media have their own audience to consider, and if you follow them all, you’ll see those differences. Sometimes even from the audience itself:

What is the truth, then, if all these news articles are correct? Aside from the fact that some of their followers exaggerate the facts, all these stories are true. But there is a particular way we see it framed, every time, and that is indicative of who you follow. Australia’s bushfires are not caused by climate change; they are caused by an ignition source that is either natural or man-made. But the likelihood that they are fuelled by climate change is easily noted, and not at all fuelled by arsonists.

If you aim to follow them all, you gain all the frames. You remove yourself from the possible media bubble that a lot of polarised left- and right-wingers find themselves in. Stick to the centre and freely move along the wingspan.

Indeed, you can still form your own opinions. You are human; it’s normal. But it’s better to form opinions with all sides of the story than with a selected few.

Teach Yourself To Be Critical

Image: Juan Rumimpunu on Unsplash

Before you share that well-depicted meme, ask yourself if it is indeed completely true. All it takes is a quick Google search, every time. And if you cannot find the answer, consider it untrue unless proven otherwise. If you share it and it is wrong, two things can happen. The first is it could backfire with people telling you that it’s wrong. Or it could get shared more, flourishing a lie that you have helped spread through the interwebs.

But critical thinking is more than just Googling the truth; it’s a way to work the mind. If you want to take your research further, consider forming your own judgement rather than relying on news outlets. Let’s consider the misinformation of The Greens being responsible for poor backburning. Pushing aside the fact that The Greens are not currently in power on a state or federal level – and that firefighters have more knowledge about firefighting than The Greens (not to mention the legal discretion to backburn) – how can we ascertain whether this assumption is true? Journalists will tell you the best person to ask is the one in question:

But saying and doing are two separate things. So why not gain some insight from the person whose sole job is to speak on behalf of NSW Rural Fire Service, Shane Fitzsimmons:

There’s a reason why lighting fires, even if you are doing it to save your property, is illegal. If it was the “panacea” (or the ultimate remedy for all bushfires), my guess is it wouldn’t be illegal. And sure enough, The Greens’ Bushfire Risk Management Policy states the same point:

“Prescribed burning is only one method of fuel management
and should be considered in the context of other available options
and the management objectives of the land in question.”

Now, something doesn’t add up here. How can The Greens be against back burning when they state it multiple times on their website that they are actually totally for it? Even some thorough Google searching doesn’t provide evidence to support the claim that The Greens stopped any backburning we’ve reached critical thinking. We are not sheep to the mass media, we are active listeners. We don’t follow like lost puppies, we challenge the world we live in.

So be critical in your devouring of news, whether it’s from the big guys or the little guys. Don’t let gullibility be the downfall of society. As Edmund Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

So do something.

 

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