By: Judah Stiefel  | 

Don’t Become Headline Blind: Hearsay, Headlines, and Fake News

Politics is in the air, and possibly in the water as well. I think it’s fair to say that this past season has been a bit more acidic than the usual. I’ve found it increasingly difficult to have quality political discussions over the past few months and weeks. That fault is mine and possibly yours.

While it’s true that the two candidates this past election season have been the most polarizing in recent history, this is not the main reason the quality of my political discussion has gone downhill. Few of the main issues that we may have pondered throughout our lives have changed. How do we deal with government, the economy, the middle east, and social issues? If the issues have not changed, then what has?

The first issue is fake news. As the New York Times editorial board put it, “The adage that falsehood flies and the truth comes limping after it doesn’t begin to describe the problem.” They go on to point out that this falsehood assumes that the truth eventually catches up. Throughout the election season, Facebook and Google have been accused of becoming platforms for fake news websites aiming to profit off of flashy headlines and drastic accusations. Yet another Times article was published pointing out that even the Times itself has run advertisements for sources that are less than legitimate.

This spreads lies which detract from legitimate discussion, while also diluting the selection of news sources that we have to choose from. The production of fake news may be difficult to fix on our end, but what we can do is ensure that we only get our news from legitimate sources. Comedian John Oliver suggested on his show that we should all go out and buy subscriptions to legitimate news sources such as, “the New York Times, The Washington Post, local newspapers, or donating to groups like Pro-Publica which is a non-profit which does great investigative journalism.” This not only keeps you well informed but also supports legitimate news sources as they struggle.

The next step to improving the quality of political discussion and savvy is avoiding the headline headlights. It’s very easy to become headline blind especially in the rush of today’s society. It’s way too easy to find yourself skimming headlines and using them to stay politically “informed.” I often find myself doing the same. The problem is that a headline is just meant to catch your attention and inform you on what the article touches upon. It provides absolutely no substance. The article may just be an opinion with no real evidence, or the evidence it provides may be inconclusive or illegitimate. It’s very important to take time and read through full articles.

If you’re up to the challenge, go one step further. Look up the primary sources that your article is based on. Read statements from public officials, check voting records, and look into other platforms for raw facts.

One last suggestion would be to avoid hearsay. A lot of people have a lot of opinions and state a lot of supposed facts, but it’s important to fact check. Make sure to know which facts are legitimate and which are things someone may have heard or read from something less than factual. Furthermore, have facts to back up your opinions. Along these lines, it’s important to see articles from both sides of an issue, and it’s for your own benefit to understand the approach from the other side as well.

The issues that our country faces haven’t changed, but the political atmosphere has. Substance still exists though it may be harder to find. It’s our absolute responsibility as students entering the world to stay informed and to understand, to the greatest of our abilities, the topics and nuances that we face each day. Take the extra time to stay politically informed. It’s important now more than ever.