Years ago I was a teacher. I encouraged students to use computer applications (and the Internet) to do research and create artifacts to share what they have found and learned.
Invariably, the first thing they would all learn in my class (no matter their age or grade) was how to spot biased, inaccurate or outdated information.
We use information to build our opinions and values, sometimes we also use “instinct” which is no other thing that our brains putting all observations together behind our own consciousness and then bringing it all to the front (that’s why we experience it as a “insight”, a “gut feeling” or an “Aha! Moment”, they are all the result of our minds working in the background with all the unprocessed data we have been capturing from diverse sources)
With the wrong information, biased sources (and the wrong questions) we risk making a bad judgement and behaving in ways we may later regret…
Never has been more important to re-check the sources of information (and even our own mental models and beliefs about certain topics) than now: we are in the brink of what may result in WWIII.
We have not one but many crises: terrorism and war, resource depletion (fuelling the two), mass migration and displacement (as a result of all the former), unemployment and discrimination, to name just a few.
Social Media is the main source of “news”, events and opinions…
Yet, we see disinformation and misinformation, people sharing stories, pictures and ideas without checking the sources or the authenticity of it all: the same tool (social media) with the potential to educate, influence and inform millions has also the regrettable power to fuel prejudices and discrimination.
Here are the five basic criteria to evaluate websites, they work the same when applied to “news”, blog posts, pictures or any other source of “information” and “opinion”:
Check for accuracy:
- Can you verify this information somewhere else?
- Is there any bias or clashing information within the content?
- Is this an opinion or are those facts?
- Do the facts make sense?
Check for authority:
- Who is publishing the story/news/article/picture?
- Is the author someone you can easily identify?
- Has this author written about other topics? Do they have a pattern towards a bias?
- What are the author’s qualifications in the subject?
Check for objectivity:
- What are the goals of the article or media? Are they clearly stated?
- Is the information clear and can it be verified?
- Is this an individual opinion?
Check for currency:
- When was this published?
- Is the research or data used current enough?
- What are the sources? Are they current?
You can also ask more questions: who is the intended target audience? Is the article intention to create friction, emotional reactions and/or test judgements?
Most of the “news” we read these days are not news at all: they are pieces of opinion about something that happened.
Journalists, in part because of the pressure to report fast and beat other media, do not provide us with the appropriate context and sources and data is many times difficult to verify. Many times, information is filtered or obscured, so we don’t have all the facts.
People tend to read and follow media whose approach is similar to theirs: this means that the information you read/watch from certain media sources would always be biased.
My suggestion if you want to be honest and be as closer to the truth as possible, is to try to read/watch information coming from diverse sources, including those you don’t agree/like.
Finally, remember that we are inundated by “reports on events”: we rarely have access to the “why’s”, and when we do, all is pre-digested for us: why does ISIS exist? Why is there a war in Syria? Why would ISIS target Paris? Why are so many immigrants coming to Europe and the rest of the world now? Why is there unemployment? Why is the oil price so low if there are wars? Why is ISIS getting profits from the oil it controls? Who buys that oil? Why is not that oil used to starve this organization? Why are there good relations and unconditional support to governments who kill people? Why are some countries and governments not judged by crimes against humanity and others are? You get the idea…
In any case, there is a point where we can get “too much information” and become overwhelmed, our brains then shut down and we stop believing: this is called information overflow and burnout.
The problem? That you may retreat and look for “entertainment” or just ignore what’s going on…with terrible consequences as reality can’t be ignored: it will eventually slap you in the face.
A good blogger friend recently asked: “Do we think about the world as we’d like to see it or the evil that needs to change?”
I have struggled with that question all the weekend: I learned of the Paris and Beirut when at work and felt immediately sick. I’ve been physically sick all the weekend till now.
My answer is that we may need to do both: we have the responsibility to understand what’s going on and why, we need to find answers and see where there is evil in this world. Ignoring it would be terrible for those who are directly and indirectly experiencing its consequences (and it would allow those who benefit from it to continue their game)…but we also need to be able to dream and actively build the world we would like to see: because is that hope what keep us alive and strong.
In the face of what’s happening and what’s coming, the only sustainable answers are to find the others, become stronger and support each other. Find those who dream our same dream and are creatively and stubbornly working to create that new reality. And extend a hand to all those whose dreams have been broken…
But the only way to know where the others are and who are they is to make sure we have access to the right information and know how to make sense of it.
We have all been given two amazing tools: one separates us from other species: our brains and the other allows us to remember where we come from and who we owe our lives to: our hearts/souls.
It is time for us to use them both.