It is said that professional integrity is the cornerstone of journalism. But I find that this is increasingly lacking in the era of social media. The rush to be the first to announce something, the addiction to immediacy and the sometimes sheep-like mentality of media consumers has ensured that some reporters and their audience have stopped being both ethical and discerning in their production and consumption of news.
Once upon a time it used to be only the journalist’s ethical failings which were apparent: the leading and biased text, not respecting the subjects of their stories, failing to verify sources and facts. Nowadays through social media and technology, everyone can be the source of news, everyone can be ‘the journalist’. People can film, photograph, comment, post or share literally anything. Nothing and no-one is safe. Whereas people may have the flimsy excuse of ignorance of facts, journalists do not, yet some persist in miseducating or worse, hurting people through false or inaccurate news.
Whereas people may have the flimsy excuse of ignorance of facts, journalists do not, yet some persist in miseducating or worse, hurting people through false or inaccurate news.
People have been hurt when their faces and names have been plastered on the news, although they are later found not guilty by the institutions whose duty it is to investigate. Articles are published for political mileage and to raise the ire of the public when there is only unfounded rumour to substantiate their claims. Those who have suffered because of this trigger-happy tendency of some in the media and people who shoot before checking, suffer trauma and sometimes professional and personal damages.
A person I know recounts how she was so profoundly hurt that she can never forgive nor forget. Moreover, she cannot bring herself to believe anything she reads about people in the news. First, she read horrible allegations about herself in her professional capacity (fortunately without being named) in a popular news / promotional portal, and later saw the shared article on Facebook with a plethora of nasty comments. She was later vindicated by internal inquiries.However this does little to ease the pain she still feels. Would it have been too much to ask the author to do some legwork and not rely on hearsay or just the purported victim’s version? No, it wouldn’t and it actually would have meant they did their job properly, but clickbait and sensationalism obviously sell more.
With the excuse of free speech, people and journalists alike have felt enabled to launch full scale attacks at people or institutions for political mileage or notoriety without heeding those pesky little things: evidence, truth and corroboration. Perception, it seems, is more powerful than truth and especially for many with blindfolds (political or of other varieties) if it fits their narrative.
Clicks, likes and reposting or retweeting may feed the ego, influence the masses and generate profit. In this unfortunate case, information is power but misinformation is also power. Maybe greater power because it is facile, targeted and often free.
Clicks, likes and reposting or retweeting may feed the ego, influence the masses and generate profit.
What can be done to stem or mitigate this constant tide of fake news and free–for–all attacks? Legislation is there butresorting to the courts is often a painful and time-consuming experience. Apologies, corrections and retractions are in short supply. Those who are guilty of media disinformation and hate campaigns should own up without legal threats,but not everyone is decent enough to do so. Keyboard warriors should take a step backwards and think, before they launch their written assaults. But will they? Human nature is such that it is easier to hate and easier to support views which do not challenge your reasoning.
What can we do to help?
- To start off, we need to be savvy media consumers and carry out fact checks before reposting or retweeting.
- When commenting, we need to pause and ask ourselves whether our comments will help or if they will simply fuel anger and frustration.
- If we find ourselves faced with articles or comments which perpetuate misinformation, we need to call out the mis–informers.
- We should report where possible and always offer factual information which gives the real picture.
- We need to convey this with a language which is calm, respectful and non-confrontational.
- Rather than fan the flames we need to douse them with a shower of cool and clear truth.
We can set the example and hopefully others will follow.
About Dot Borg: Divorced, working mum, avid reader and sometimes angry writer. Loathes single socks, prone to bouts of road rage and selective amnesia.