Once upon a time, not so long ago, a newspaper (or three) delivered information to your doorstep (or you grabbed a copy from a kiosk on the way to work). You might have listened to snippets of news on the radio during your commute. And if you lived long enough ago, in a large enough community, you might have also received (or picked up) an afternoon paper.
You might even have read a weekly or monthly news magazine delivered to your mailbox or selected at the newstand. But, except for Uncle Walter or David Brinkley on the evening news that was it. A finite number of words, pieces of paper, and broadcast signals, devoted to delivering information each day.
Now, thousands of mainstream “newspapers” and “magazines” (some of which no longer have print editions) post information online. Access to international news organizations for an enlightened perspective on the inanity and inaccuracy of U.S. media reporting is a few keystrokes away. You can read about the same event from a dozen different perspectives eliminating the concept of “objective” reporting from your vocabulary.
And, then there’s the blogs, many offering better researched, higher quality reporting than the once-respected standards such as the plagiarizing New York Times or the right-wing-slanted Wall Street Journal. This is especially true for obscure topics or ones that require significant, educated analysis to understand their subtleties.
(Of course some blogs are just soap boxes for ill-formed, unsubstantiated opinions, but that’s another post.)
If you don’t want to cycle through numerous publications or constantly refresh the ones you’ve chosen as your standards, Twitter and other “streams” offers you instant access to almost everything published – including rumors, innuendoes, parodies, satire, and outright falsehoods.
Now, rather than accept what some (usually white, middle aged, male) editor decides is newsworthy, you can select the sources that provide the information that’s of interest or is useful to you.
Unfortunately, this inundation of material has created numerous problems. The primary one is the proliferation of misinformation. U.S. and foreign media outlets too often pick up false rumors and parodies and pass them off as facts. How many times have some celebrities’ deaths been reported, before, and decades after, their demises? How many iterations of the same urban legends have been disseminated via Facebook, G+, and Tumblr?
No one is fact checking even though resources to do so are readily available such as Snopes and about.com’s Urban Legends (as well as others). Even previously reliable sources have posted and printed inaccurate and, sometimes blatantly false, information.
Anyone who shares knowledge gleaned from the Internet, whether with just friends and family or with hundreds/thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook friends, should take responsibility for the accuracy of what they disseminate. But, too many tweet, tumble, and pin articles based only on the headlines or someone else’s post, never verifying or sometimes even reading the actual content. And, not only is a picture no longer worth a thousand words – it provides no proof. (See “John Adam” aka action figure “Cody” above.)
Those who don’t get confirmation from more than one “reliable” source, just pass along false information (sometimes inadvertently, at times deliberately) and add to the cacophony of gossip, fabrications, urban legends, deceptions, constantly recycled old news, etc. increasing the dilemma for everyone.
Of course, the second most problematic result of information inundation is the sheer volume of data now available. (Although not everyone can retrieve everything, a fact driven home by academic friends pleading for someone to share papers they can’t access because of their location.) No doubt, one could spend every waking moment reading online reports, updates of reports, analysis of reports, and localization of reports or trying to confirm whether the article posted on your favorite site bears any resemblance to the truth.
So, where do we draw the line between well informed and news junkie? How do we tune out the lies and innuendos to find something resembling the truth (assuming we aren’t angry old white men just looking for confirmation of our right-wing nut job fantasies)?