Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Dangers of Media Illiteracy

The media and I have never been friends. That relationship soured a long, LOOONG time ago. Ask around. Read old social media posts I’ve written. I have not been quiet about this topic. I have said countless times that I don’t miss Jon Stewart because of how he went after politicians; I miss him because of how he went after awful media.

However, the truth of the matter is I had been looking at it all wrong. The term “media” is too broad. It covers too much. Yes, there are negative components to the media as a whole, but there are also a lot of positive components. I’d go so far to say that the positives far outweigh the negatives, if you know what you’re doing.

The problem is that far too many people don’t know what they’re doing, and that’s what I want to look at here.

My main gripe with the media has always been what’s called “spin.” Every media outlet seems to have their political platform. Conservative, liberal, etc. Because of that, a conservative network will “spin” a story one way while a liberal network will spin the exact same story differently. This makes it very difficult to trust what I’m reading.

Clearly, I’m not alone. This year’s Gallup Poll showed that only 32 percent of Americans say they have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in media outlets to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly, and all-time low in the history of the poll. Why is there such a lack of trust? Primarily because 74 percent of Americans believe that news organizations are biased in some way. Basically, nearly three-fourths of America is tired of the story-spinning as well.

But those numbers can be a little deceiving. The reality is that in an age of information at the click of a button, we have little trust in almost everything. Gallup Polls show that trust in the government has been trending down for years. Trust in the Supreme Court is trending down. Trust in organized religion is down. Trust in banks is down. In fact, of these items, trust in the media is higher than all of them except religion.

The problem is—which media outlets should we trust? Many spin their opinion pieces to the left or right. Many provide “news” that they’re paid to do (basically, their “news” is one long advertisement). Many are radical left or right groups giving little more than unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

Who can we trust to give us the news in a “full, accurate, and fair” way? Unfortunately, there’s no simple way to answer that. If you read one thing, it will tell you that CNN is the most trusted. If you read something else, it will tell you that Fox News it the most trusted. Naturally, one thing to keep in mind is who is answering these questions. Liberals will say that they trust CNN and distrust Fox News. Conservatives trust Fox News and distrust CNN. Through my research, The Wall Street Journal seemed to have the most balanced audience on the liberal-conservative scale.

Something else to keep in mind is that people are more likely to trust names they recognize. For example: Almost everyone knows the name CNN. Fewer know The Economist. So to get a more complete picture, we need to look at the percentage of trust/distrust within the percentages of people who recognize each source. When you look at THAT ratio, The Economist leads the way, with a 5.7-to-1 trust/distrust ratio, followed by the BBC, NPR, PBS, and The Wall Street Journal.

Here’s a graph with the breakdown of media groups and their trust levels along the left-right political view spectrum.

To break it down further, here’s a graph of how each generation trusts/distrusts those major media outlets.

Who cares? Why is any of this important?

It’s important because while we have information at the click of a button, a lot of the information out there is wrong. More and more people are being fed false news and it’s shaping the way they think, vote, and believe.

That’s dangerous.

A Stanford study was just released regarding how today’s students see and understand news. Their results were frightening:

  • 82% of middle-schoolers cannot distinguish between real and fake news online.
  • Most high schoolers accept photos as presented without verifying them.

  • Many high school students couldn’t tell a real and fake news source apart on Facebook. More than 30% said the fake one was more trustworthy.

  • Most college students didn’t suspect potential bias in a Twitter post from an activist group.

  • Many judge the credibility of a source based on how much info is provided or if a large picture was included, rather than checking the reliability of the source itself.

  • Students couldn’t tell fake accounts from real ones, activist groups from neutral sources, and ads from articles.

  • You can get the full PDF of the study through the article in the link above.

While the study focuses on students, adults are just as guilty. Many of us just read a headline and deduct the content of the article based on that headline, and then repeat that headline to others as “fact.”

We tend to believe what we read or hear, regardless of the source. Regardless if it’s true or false. Consequently, we’re full of theories and opinions masquerading as facts. I’ve had people tell me that they share the message without paying attention to the messenger.

This. Must. End.

When you do this, you spread false information. When you spread false information, people form wrong opinions on important matters. It’s no wonder people don’t trust the media when we are the ones spreading biased and unsubstantiated information.

So what do we do? How can we share viable information? How can we decide what is valuable and trustworthy news?

First, stop reading and stop sharing worthless material. A meme is not factual news. Anyone sharing memes to make their point is not worth your time.

Next, actually read. Not just the title. Not just the first few paragraphs. Read the entire article. Read it honestly (if you disagree with it) and critically (if you agree with it). Read from multiple sources on the same topic. How do you know if you can trust the information you’re reading? You can find it in multiple places. You can find it nationally (CNN, Fox News, etc). Learn to sift through the spinning they do in order to obtain the thesis of the story.

At the same time, be sure to read news from all sides of the political spectrum. If you’re conservative, don’t just read news slanted to the conservative side. If you’re liberal, don’t just read liberal news. How else can you learn to sort through the biases that exist if you don’t widen your view of the material.

Here’s a pretty good graph of the liberal-conservative scale and where many media outlets fall.

Articles should have multiple, reliable sources for their information. Documented facts. Again, you can trust those facts if you can find them in multiple sources throughout the left-right political spectrum.

Reporting is not the same as commentary or the op-ed sections. Opinions do not equal reporting. Opinions are fine. They often have research included. But reporting is the straight, unbiased story. Just the facts.

Actually pay attention to the things Jon Stewart railed on—it was almost never the reporting. It was almost never the facts. He railed on the opinion pieces of the media. He railed on how the talking heads misused those facts.

Adults: When we growing up, the news was just the news. But there is so much information and misinformation out there that today’s youth need to actually learn how to read the news. We are raising a nation of young adults that cannot tell the difference between real and fake news. This is not the media’s fault. It’s ours. We share one-sided op-ed pieces instead of investigative reporting and call it fact. When we do this, we become the biased media; which, in turn, makes us the ones they don’t trust. Keep in mind that these young adults will be voting soon (or already), helping shape the policies that will govern our lives. We should want them properly educated on reading the news—news, not unsubstantiated theories.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Wait...I'M a Terrorist?!?!

Last week, I wrote a post pledging to stand up against the stream of hate being thrown around. For the most part, the response was encouraging, and I even saw a few people using #nomorehate throughout social media. Thank you!! Not for reading my post or even agreeing with me, but for refusing to tolerate the hatred currently polluting this country.

As expected, some took offense to my post. Throughout numerous discussions with these people, it became clear to me that many who use hate rhetoric don’t even understand that that’s what they’re doing. So let’s look at that first.

Hate speech: “It is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like. Hate speech can be any form of expression regarded as offensive to racial, ethnic and religious groups and other discrete minorities or to women” (US Legal).

Basically, if you classify a person into one generalization—if you define someone by their race, religion, political views, etc—and then say something negative about that person or group, what you have said stems from hate. For example: Bob is a conservative, so he believes homosexuals should receive shock treatments to fix them. Unless Bob said those words, that is a hateful statement about him. It’s also hateful towards conservatives because many conservatives do support homosexual rights.

This is not my opinion. It is the legal definition. If you define a generalized group of people and say something negative, what you have said stems from hate. For example: Liberals are baby-killers. This is hateful because there are many liberals who are pro-life.

We do these things to each other far too often. A Christian calls homosexuals “pedophiles.” A homosexual calls Christians “judgmental.” A white person calls blacks “violent.” A black person calls whites “racist.” All of these statements are based in partial fact, stretched to hyperbolic levels. Some homosexuals are pedophiles, but so are some Christians. Some Christians are judgmental, but so are some homosexuals. Some black citizens are violent, but so are some white citizens. Some white citizens are racist, but so are some black citizens. The overwhelmingly high majority of all these people do not come close to these labels. So to identify Christians as “judgmental” is a generalization that comes from a deep, internal resentment. To define the black community as “violent” is a generalization that comes from a deep, internal resentment.

And it all needs to stop.

I’d like to take this a little further. See, hate often comes from a deep-rooted sense of fear, and what do we fear the most? Violence. I have seen more posts, shared articles, and memes regarding Muslims and this attempted registry than nearly anything else that could be deemed “hateful.” The consensus among the hate propaganda is that Muslims have ties to ISIS, so we need to kick them all out of America in order to protect our land from terrorists.

Terrorism: “1) Involves an act that: a) is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources; and b) is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States; and 2) appears to be intended: a) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; b) to influence the policy of a government; or c) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping” (Us Legal).

While the roots of ISIS blend from other groups, it seems (as best as I could find) that the consensus of ISIS’s formation began around 2013 (CNN). From 2013-15, there have been four attacks on U.S. soil linked to ISIS, with only fourteen deaths…all coming from the San Bernardino shooting last year (NYTimes). Even then, the FBI has stated that they have found no evidence linking ISIS to that shooting (NPR).

During that same time frame, there have been 22 mass shootings in the U.S., resulting in 170 deaths (Mother Jones). Of those 170 deaths, 59 of them occurred in schools (Everytown Research).

By definition of the law, a mass shooting is an act of terrorism because it involves an act that is dangerous to human life; is a violation of criminal law; and appears to be intended to intimidate a civilian population. If we look at the scoreboard from 2013-15, it’s 22 acts of terror on America by Americans to 4 acts of terror on America that had ties to ISIS (zero by ISIS itself). It’s 170 deaths to 14 (if you count the 14 deaths in San Bernardino as tied to ISIS, which the FBI does not).

Of those 22 mass shootings, 7 of them were committed by white citizens, more than any other race (Mother Jones). In fact, going back to 1982, white citizens have consisted of nearly 64 percent of the mass shootings in this country (CNN).

That’s right—factually speaking, the greatest terrorist threat on Americans in America is the white community.

Where should I go to register for vetting?

Wow. I can actually hear some of you screaming at me right now. Why? Because I just called you a terrorist? Because I manipulated facts and statistics to imply that you are worse than, or at least equal to, ISIS? Because I generalized the entire white community based on the actions of a few sick people over the last three years?

Yet some of you have no qualms about doing the same thing to others. This is the hate on which I speak and write. This is the type of hate that I will no longer sit back and casually ignore.

This is the hate I witnessed again today, thanks to our wonderful president-elect. We all know of the actions of Abdul Razak Ali Artan at Ohio State University the other day. Artan is a legal, permanent resident of the United States. In fact, US officials said that no negative information was found during his background checks prior to being allowed in this country and when he became a legal resident. Yet there was Trump, posting away on Twitter once again, saying: “ISIS is taking credit for the terrible stabbing attack at Ohio State University by a Somali refugee who should not have been in our country” (italics mine). Let’s ignore that Artan was legally here. Let’s ignore that Homeland Security found “no direct link” between Artan and ISIS (BBC). He’s a refugee, so he must be a terrorist. He’s Muslim, so he has no right to be in our country.

This is the crap Trump says that stirs the pot of hate among the rest of the country. He distances himself from hate groups, but then displays hate. Others quickly follow.

We cannot ignore this kind of hate. When we ignore hate, we allow it to fester. We allow it to spread. We allow it to take root in an entire nation and affect our politics, our relationships, and our children.

I believe everyone would agree that we want to see America great. Yes, we may disagree on how to do that, but that’s part of what makes America great. We disagree, yet find ways to work together. Our differences make us whole. Think of a strong marriage. The strengths of one spouse is often the weaknesses of the other, and vice-versa. Together, they form a perfect union.

Our Union has been built on the differences of each other. We want America great, yet we constantly insult those who are different from us. How does ridiculing liberals make America great? How does insulting different races make America great? How does scorning someone’s religion make America great? How does bashing someone’s sexual orientation make America great?

Hasn’t history shown us that empires are destroyed from the inside-out rather than the outside-in? Verbally attacking each other gets us nowhere but division. We wonder why nothing is ever accomplished in this country? Why progress is never made? We are the reason.

Man/Woman. Democrat/Republican. Conservative/Liberal. Buddhist/Christian/Hindu/Islamic/Jewish. Bi/Gay/Straight/Transgender. Asian/Black/Hispanic/White. Immigrant/Native/Refugee. We are America. But not just America. We are the UNITED States of America. Or at least we’re supposed to be.

So what should we do when we see or hear hate? Respond with words and with love. Christians often say, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Well, we should “Hate the hate, but love the hater.” Responding to hate with hate solves nothing. In fact, it makes it worse. Speak out, but do so in love. Be respectful in what you say. Also—understand that you are very likely not going to change that person’s mind, let alone their heart. Hate comes from a deep root, remember. The purpose of speaking out is for everyone else who may be watching, reading, or listening. If all they see is hate, hate, hate, what do we expect them to learn? Speak out. Let those outsiders learn from your compassion. Your love. There’s no easy fix here. It’s a long-term project. That’s why we need as many people working on it as possible.

Thank you. I love you, all.