These days, we are constantly bombarded with conflicting information. Brexit is good, Brexit is bad. Trump has banned Moslems. Trump hasn’t banned Moslems. So how can we find out the truth amongst the bias and propaganda?
The first thing to realise is that almost everything you read is biased – yes, even this blog post. That’s because, when we are writing, we insert bias as soon as we choose one word instead of another. For example, if you’re reporting a big event, saying “crowds of people thronged the streets” paints a different picture from saying “crowds of people clogged the streets”. Similarly, the way we feel about a mother who doesn’t go out to work is affected by whether she is described as a stay-at-home mum or an unemployed benefit claimant. (Both are true because nearly all mums in the UK claim child benefit and anyone who doesn’t work is unemployed.) .
Bias can also shows in what writers leave out. Quoting a politician as saying “I hate cats” is misleading if he really said “I hate cats being cruelly treated.” And it can affect the order of the words makes a difference too. In my first paragraph, I wrote “Brexit is good, Brexit is bad” not “Brexit is bad, Brexit is good” and that may have affected the way you reacted to what you read.
Politicians claim that the spread of bias and misinformation has been made worse by the internet, but I believe they are wrong. Although so-called “fake news” can spread quickly online, the truth can spread just as fast if it’s given the chance. And the power of internet searches helps us discover which facts are lies, which photos are doctored and which dossiers are dodgy.
There are several ways you can help yourself spot propaganda and discover the truth.
- Look at the source of the information you are reading. Some websites and newspapers are more reliable than others.
- Try to get information from more than one source. Looking at two websites biased in opposing directions will help you spot discrepancies in their accounts.
- Be sceptical of quotes and soundbites. Wherever possible, look at the original source of the information in full: the act of parliament, the speech, the leaked email, the executive order. Everything you need is online if you search for it.
Of course, lack of time will stop you doing all of this every time you read something. But treat facts you haven’t checked with caution, and always try to check before you share information on Twitter or Facebook. If we all do that, the people who spread misinformation will find life more difficult and the truth will get a louder voice.