Who can you believe?


(CORRECTION 1/13/2016 – see below) Back in December, I talked to M.L. Kenney on her Consuming Media radio program on Macalester college radio. We started off with her question about whether the media is trustworthy. My take: The right response is not trust but a critical, skeptical stance toward both media and official/semi-official sources of information. A critical response goes beyond the automatic “I don’t believe you” to a more difficult attitude of thinking about who has furnished information, how reliable the source is, and what other sources say.

The first step is to look at a variety of sources. Go beyond the Strib and the PiPress, beyond the New York Times and Washington Post. Look for information from The Guardian, Atlantic, The Nation, Al Jazeera, or Vox.com. Look also for information you disagree with.

Look at alternative sources, too — blogs, independent media like Unicorn Riot, Facebook posts by people telling about their own experience and observations.

Next — triangulate. That means looking at information sources that disagree and evaluating what they say. Where are their areas of agreement? That’s a sweet spot where you can find facts.

Finally, figure out which voices you trust, or at least which voices consistently raise important questions, questions that you want to find out more about. It takes a while to assess whether a source is generally accurate and interesting, but if you want to know what’s going on in the world around you, that’s time well spent. Build your own network of media and individual voices that you trust. And tell other people about them. Link to them on Facebook. You are the media, too. You have an audience, even if your audience is small. Become a reliable source of information by sharing reliable information.

Facebook is a great source of information AND misinformation. Check the sources of stories that you read and their accuracy. Two important places that help in fact-checking are snopes.com (great for fact-checking email and Facebook memes) and politifact.com, which focuses on politicians’ claims.

If you are concerned about an issue, accepting the first story that someone flies past you, even if it’s something you want to believe, is irresponsible. If you find a story important, check it, find other sources, and verify information. Truth matters.

If you want to listen to the whole show (27 minutes), click on the Sound Cloud file below.

CORRECTION: M.L. Kenney uses initials rather than a first name – correction made.

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