We are more than fortunate to live at a time when we have the world at our finger tips. We hear that a lot lately ’cause having access to the world’s information can be infinitely beneficial. But at the same time, it can be infinitely detrimental.
Take the US-Russia scandal, for an example. There is a lot of information circulating about the contentious international and there seems to be more every single day. One side of the issue says there is no wrongdoing or collusion while the other side says there is absolute proof of foreign interference into the election. There is even a small corner of the internet that believes the DNC emails were leaked by a man named Seth Rich who they also believe was killed by the DNC to cover it up. Crazy stuff.
The internet of things is a constant flow of information, photos, stories, ideas, truths, lies, and of course everyone’s favourite memes. And with that flow comes a major responsibility for anyone who chooses to take part in it or even just spectate from a far – a responsibility most don’t realize or just choose to ignore. That responsibility is our ability and willingness to determine fact from fiction before sharing anything, lest you exacerbate the constant flow or put a kink in it with some false flag.
So let’s be honest: No one has the time, the willpower or the fucks to give when it comes to sharing dubious crap on the internet. The crap comes too fast, just as fast as the truth and the memes do. Hell sometimes the dubious crap actually validates us a little, so why wouldn’t we share it? There’s no possible way to keep up with all of it let alone make sure it’s all true or relevant or real.
I’m not here to tell you how to keep up with it, I’m here to tell you to fall behind.
How many times do you scroll through Twitter for just a minute and suddenly there’s 100 new tweets already at the top? And then how often does that same thing happen on Facebook? To keep up with it all, skimming is kind of your best option. But skimming never gives you the full story.
I’m going into my fourth year in Journalism school this September but in the first three I have held close some important principles I’ve learned along the way. These have helped me be a better journalist and in turn I think it’s also made me a better consumer of media in general. I believe they could help you too.
Accuracy trumps urgency. All the time. Always. This basically means you need to stop wanting to be the first person to know something and instead, be the first person to know it well. A little thing called three source confirmation comes in handy here. The gist of it is to find three sources that say the same or similar things to what you’re confirming which gives it far more validity. This makes sure you actually take the time to stop before sharing something that may be, dare I say, fake news. It’s also a way for you to be more well-read in the subject at hand.
To elaborate I’ll think back to that time Pepe the Frog became a hate symbol. When I first saw the story, on The Daily Beast, I was fairly skeptical. To me it was just a meme, a joke, a cartoon to be put in random outfits and predicaments for a laugh or shock value. Yet, there was an article saying the frog was in the anti-defamation league defined as a hate symbol. I thought maybe this was just a false alarm from The Daily Beast until I did a quick search and found not just two other pieces on the subject, but literally close to a hundred. From there my skepticism was rightly stifled, and with it my love for a once fun comic strip character.
Read from as many places as you possibly can. Again, all the time. Now I know this seems like it contradicts the original point of falling behind but, the key is to read carefully as well – which hopefully is the impression you got in my last point. The basis of this principle is that everywhere you get your news from has some kind of influence. Whether it be money, political narratives, or just stirring the pot, everyone has an agenda. So the best way to keep yourself from blindly following a perceived truth is to take in as many perceived truths as possible from everyone. This way you’ll actually be able to piece together something with your own thoughts with varying perspectives and details instead of from just one isolated stream of many similar ones.
I’m sure at least some of you have that one friend who only reads Fox news, or HeatStreet, or Breitbart or, god forbid maybe Infowars. Their perspective on current news is much different from someone who solely reads from say The New York Times, Washington Post, Salon or BuzzFeed. The publications in each of these lists have their own biases, their own influences and their own reasons for being a publication in the first place. Each of them are going to have a different way of reporting the news because they’ve hired people that align with their mission to inform the public in their own way.
So instead of reading news from publications in just one of those lists, try reading news from all of them or as many as you can make time for. Okay, maybe not Infowars though.
Read what it’s worth. This is actually a spin of a mantra from one of my professors who always says “write what it’s worth.” It works both ways though, in that if you feel like there is more to add to a story or a memo that you’re writing, you should have the same feeling when reading a story. This is your method of answering questions you may be left with after reading something. The goal here is to notice when a news story leaves you wondering if there’s more to it and to seek it out.
Stop overwhelming yourself by thinking you need to stay on top of every news cycle, every day.
When all those posts start rolling in for the day pick one or two or as many stories as you can handle that really pop out to you. This way instead of being half-educated on everything, you’ll be fully educated on the things that matter to you. Less is more, as they say.