For the Love of God, Find Your News Somewhere Other Than Social Media
This is a rant, I’ll be honest with you. I’m sick of all the misinformation going around when the least we can do for people out there who are actually suffering is to get our facts straight and stop spreading fake news.
I studied media as part of my Communications degree and I have studied closely how conflicts in my conflict-ridden country have been reported by both the mainstream media and alternative media. This is where and how you should get credible information about developing world events. It’s NOT social media.
First of all, you cannot get your news from one source only, especially if you are looking for information on controversial or highly contested issues, such as ideological disputes, religious violence, and racial conflicts, among others.
You need to TRIANGULATE your news, which means you need to have at least 3 trustworthy sources of information. Journalists are required to do this, but in this day and age that they are calling the “post-truth” era, and with the prevalence of social media, you are now also responsible to triangulate. This responsibility is ESPECIALLY important if you are intending to provide your own commentary on a developing event.
Primary Sources & Biases
Media outlets closest to the conflict will be your best source of breaking news. But ask yourself this question: is that outlet known to be biased and towards what? Is it state-run, state-allied? What does that mean for the information that you are trying to get? It takes 5 seconds to Google this. Please.
You might also choose to get your breaking news “from the horse’s mouth,” so to speak, but bear in mind that authorities and participants in a conflict will have their own respective agenda. Ask the same question as above, and before you share anything from officials, and especially before you provide commentary on anything from officials, make sure that you have enough context about what they are saying before circulating it.
Context & Alternative Sources
Conflicts do not arise from a vacuum. These things have built up from years and years and years of things happening one after the other. Your first impression of every headline and every piece of news, will NOT be accurate, simply because you weren’t there in every single event that led to that event that’s now “trending.” And that’s fine. That’s what good journalists are supposed to help you understand: the context — the history of this thing that you are now watching.
The problem is that each media outlet and each journalist will have their own way of framing things. How do you know which framing to trust?
In a conflict there will always be a more powerful party and a less powerful party. The more powerful party will have more access to the media and more financial and political resources in their arsenal to push for their agenda in the media. The less powerful party will not. Most of the information you will find will provide context based on the more powerful party’s side of things. You should try harder to find the less powerful party’s side of things. If this proves to be difficult, locate alternative sources of information.
Alternative sources means “not the mainstream media.” This includes NGOs and similar organizations. This is another place to ask: what biases do these people have? And this more important question: are they credible? You will know that an alternative source is credible if (1) they are transparent about their method of acquiring information, (2) they cite and triangulate their sources, or (3) you have triangulated their information with other sources.
In my opinion, there is no such thing as completely objective news. Just choosing the topic to cover is already a subjective decision by a journalist, add to this the language that the journalist uses, and the framing of the story — these are all subjective decisions.
A lot of journalism students swear by this illusion to be “objective” resulting instead to the perpetuation of false information that they got from a source. If you are reading this type of he-said, she-said news, you are not learning anything valuable. You need to read contextualized news where the journalist does the work of making the conversation equitable.
It is my opinion that “bias” is not an entirely wrong thing to have, for as long as you are not distorting any of the facts and are still triangulating. I go back to the discussion about the level of access that the more powerful party has on the media over the less powerful party. You can be “biased” towards exposing the less powerful party’s story, because that’s the story we see less of. In my opinion, being “objective” in an unjust, unequal climate only perpetuates that injustice and inequality.
On social media, we share news items that reflect our own biases, which is not entirely wrong for as long as that news item is still 100% factual, contextualized, and triangulated. It’s not wrong to have opinions about things, but if we have to support that opinion with false information, that’s a harmful opinion.
In looking for information about developing conflicts, I personally try to find at least one source from each party, one mainstream media outlet, one alternative source, and an analysis from experts.
Your news sources will and should vary depending on what coverage you are following. For example, if you are following a war coverage, you will want to have one source from each participant, at least one neutral source, one alternative source, and an analysis of that conflict. Similarly, if you are following a conflict domestically, you will want to have one source from the government, at least one source that isn’t from the government, one source from the mainstream media, at least one alternative source, and analysis from experts.
Another best practice is to check fact checking sites. Takes seconds to Google. Seconds.
And the BEST practice of them all? DO NOT provide commentary on a conflict unless you have been properly educated about it. Again, this is the least that you could do for people who are actually suffering due to that conflict. False information, when circulated enough, can cause real-life consequences for actual people. Be responsible and when in doubt, shut the fuck up.