If you are over 40 you probably remember when most, if not all, news Tv, news radio and newspapers were presenting and representing facts. News was news, fact. We still had opinion and editorialized stories, but they were labeled as such so there was no misinterpreting them for real news. Names like Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather and Connie Chung to name a few, were voices of fact.
In today’s instant access to mainstream media I am finding it difficult to weigh through the constant news cycle understanding what is fact and what is opinion (not fact). If this is difficult for adults, how hard must it be for kids and young adults? Understanding how the system works can help you guide your children in curating their data stream. With a bit of help from parents, kids can develop best practices and a “gut feel” for bad information.
A couple of things have taken place to get us to this point in the “opinion based” news world. The 24/7 news cycle is just too much airtime to fill, who gets credit for reporting a story first, and finally the injection of Corporate America’s wealthiest into news.
There is just too much open airtime in a 24/7 news cycle. Stories get dragged out till they are no longer completely factual. Being “First” is now more important than being “Right”. The click economy requires you to report on stories without verifying sources or having all the facts. They use terms like “allegedly and unnamed sources” so you get those first clickers which equate to dollars. Finally, starting back in the 70’s corporate America started really forcing their hand in the news cycle. The consolidation of companies presenting the news has left only a handful of folks in charge. We now see this manifest itself as the wealthiest trying to be the conscience of the country. Imposing their opinions on the news cycle. Just because you are wealthy or have built a very successful business does not mean your opinion is more correct or valuable than others.
In today’s world you may see a story in mainstream media that is represented differently depending on which news channel you watch. That story may have two or three different perspectives on the facts thus reporting stories are completely different. If you merely present partial facts, it is not factual. If you are injecting factual information into a story, it is also not innately factual. Mainstream media hosts injecting opinion into a story to try and grab your attention is not factual. The sensationalizing of stories to get more viewers, readers and clicks to monetize is making fact-based news hard to find.
Going further down the rabbit hole. Our search engine algorithms (Google, Yahoo, Bing) Are powerful tools that have improved the standard of living, yet they are accompanied by very dangerous pitfalls. They are great in that it is like having the world’s library at your fingertips. The downside that affects the news we consume is the confirmation bias that it creates. You will tend to only see one side of the story based on your search terms. If you do a search on the decline of butterfly populations, you will then see more and more stories on the decline, and may not see the stories or successes Entomologists are creating to save butterflies.
How do you help your kids become expert consumers of content? Curating their data feed they see on their phones from YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat or Tik Tok is building good research habits. That’s right, kids do not watch the mainstream news. The news community knows this, and they have invaded these other platforms. Here are some basic tips to help your child build the ability to discern fact from fiction. Remember, this is a process that takes time and re-enforcement.
- When performing a search online don’t just use the first result. Dig deeper. When was the last time you went to page two on a Google search?
- Just because you heard it or read it online does not make it factual.
- Be a skeptic. Don’t just believe the first thing you hear or read. Remember opinion now looks like fact. Ask questions, search those questions you have. Teach your children to be research experts.
- If it sounds too good to be true, or too bad to be true, then it probably isn’t true. This age old advice is even more important now that opinion based news articles are everywhere online. We have all seen those “Click Bait” articles at the bottom of pages online. Your kids will see them too.
- Don’t believe headlines. The news providers know they can drag you into reading their story if they hook you with an over inflated or even false headline.
- Kids are “Quick” consumers online. It takes time to find the facts, don’t allow them to fall into the “Quick Hit” trap.
- Don’t let mainstream media control your beliefs or opinions. It’s not easy to take your time and research a story. You want to get all the facts then make up your own mind. Don’t let mainstream news personalities make up your mind. Be an independent thinker because you did the research.
Summary: Most of the news organizations are fighting to get your attention. Your attention is how they make money in advertising or subscriptions. Just because someone looks good online or is a great speaker doesn’t mean they are relaying facts. You want to be an independent thinker, building your very own “Gut Feel” for what is right and what is wrong, what is fact and what is fiction. Be a skeptic, ask lots of questions and research both sides of the story.