Holzer: Fake News: It’s Not You, It’s Me

The crisis of the media’s legitimacy lies in the audience, not the authors.

by Emory Holzer | 10/11/18 2:00am

 The 2016 presidential election mucked a phrase up from the dark corners of the internet and into the public eye. By questioning the biases of mainstream media, people began to doubt their very foundation of truth. Suddenly, media with which people disagreed became “fake news” and the only reliable sources those which supported their beliefs. Now, it seems “fake news” and news are equally prevalent. At some point or another, every major media outlet has been labeled “fake news” by those who disagree with what they publish, and no one blinks an eye at the assumption.

Have news outlets always falsified information? Have they published lies for decades, and have some now just realized this vast conspiracy by media moguls to peddle misinformation? Or, have news outlets just recently become tarnished? This seems improbable. I am hard-pressed to believe the news has turned unreliable in the past two years. No, the epidemic of “fake news” stems not from the sources themselves but from the way in which people consume them.

In this fast-paced digital world, many absorb information through breaking news push notifications, passionate Facebook posts from that high school friend, catchy titles for articles most never end up reading and sensationalized TV news playing in the background. Rarely do people actively engage with a story, weighing its claims against their own. This generation seems to favor buzzwords and slogans over analysis and debate. They take oversimplified claims at face value, failing to weigh the nuances of arguments.

When people do read articles or listen to pundits, they solely engage with those who repeat what they already hold true, rather than involve themselves with opinions different from their own. In a society where MSNBC and Fox News exist in completely different realms, where conservatives consume conservative news and liberals consume liberal news, where they label those they disagree with as bigots or snowflakes, they build walls around themselves. They section themselves off based on political ideology, refusing to interact with those who do not share their opinions. Many in this generation champion diversity of experiences. They champion the right for everyone’s needs to be met and for everyone to feel accepted and comfortable sharing themselves with the world. Why, then, do they not apply these same rules to political ideology?

Trapped in homogeneous bubbles, political attitudes become further polarized; not only the people many surround themselves with, but also the news many watch generates a dangerous sentiment. When people get their news from a myriad of sources (print and television, liberal and conservative), they expose themselves to differing viewpoints that paint a clearer picture of events and affairs. Further, this allows many to come to conclusions for themselves about those viewpoints and to construct their own stances. This way, they are forced to grapple with and critically analyze opinions of others until they can refine their own ideas, rather than blindly taking one news station’s viewpoint as fact.

It is easy to highlight problems in others. It is easier to claim that those who do not share their political beliefs are wrong, and it is easier to say that any story that does not support their beliefs is a lie. What proves much more difficult is looking at one’s own dangerous habits. I implore the reader to engage with a source they would not normally, have a civil discussion with someone with which you disagree, read an article from a newspaper you would never pick up, or listen to a pundit argue a point with which they fundamentally disagree. Engaging with those people and engaging with those stories allows people to strengthen one’s own opinions. This “fake news” generation calls for a reckoning. Although we have identified a problem, we have misinterpreted its source. Fake news, it’s not you, it’s us.