Editorial: News and accountability

Editorial Board

We live in an age of information. If you have a question, an answer can be found simply by asking Google. But what if you accept the first answer you are given as a fact, even when it’s not necessarily the right one, but merely the most popular trending one?

It’s no surprise that the 2016 election helped propagate “fake news” and reveal biases for the candidates. This has people questioning the trustworthiness of journalists and mainstream news organizations.

A recent “Buzz” piece conducted by the Inquirer editorial board asked students from what sources they received the bulk of their news. While some students listed one or two sources, it was clear that most relied on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for news.

According to a study conducted by economic professors Hunt Allcott of New York University and Matthew Gentzkow of Stanford University, “62 percent of U.S. adults get news on social media.”

If over half of American adults get their news from social media without checking one or multiple sources, partial or even inaccurate information can be misconstrued as fact. These inaccuracies can cause deep misunderstanding and division amongst people, since an agreed upon set of facts cannot be established.

Without solid facts, debates turn into shouting matches about who feels more strongly that their one-sided argument is correct. If something doesn’t fit the narrative of someone with this mentality, then communication becomes all but impossible as those who are now viewed as “enemies” are dehumanized.

Getting news from social media also has the benefit of a platform for people to discuss their most heartfelt beliefs. Without fully understanding such heated topics and then not even considering to even read the article, people tend to get worked up over “click-bait” headlines and shut down their willingness to listen to those they have already deemed as the opposition.

So how can we solve this problem?

While it takes some extra effort, a good solution would be to broaden your perspective on a topic of your interest by checking multiple sources. It takes a lot of work to be well-read, but it is more limiting to ignore the other side.

Norwegian public broadcaster NRK is trying something new: a lock on the comment section of their articles that can only be unlocked through a quiz, in which the reader must verify that they have read and understood the article.

While we may not need a solution like this just yet, it is perhaps a bit troubling that such solutions even need to be considered.

~ Spring 2017 Editorial Board