How to Read In the Era of Fake News

Note: the author wrote this speech to read aloud at a school meeting following President Trump's Inauguration. 


The question cards set out in the Dining Hall pre-election said something very apt. At the bottom corner of every card, there was some small text saying something to the effect of “Which party do you support? Not sure? Ask your parents!” I thought that was funny. But there’s actually a lot of truth in this statement. I find that party loyalty is highly dependent on your upbringing. If you grew up in a more liberal family, you’re likely to share your parents’ liberal views. As liberals tend to be democrats, they’ll lean towards the Democratic Party. But party loyalty is much more deeply rooted than we make it out to be. Our conservative or liberal stances are often connected to our worldviews, sometimes to our most closely held beliefs, and this can be inhibiting. 

Changing one’s viewpoint from conservative to liberal or vice versa is uncommon and pretty jarring for everyone involved. Conservatism and Liberalism are more than just schools of thought. What do you know except your convictions and your beliefs, those which are often embedded withinone of these schools of thought? I know it makes up a large part of my identity and my friend group too. So naturally, we become defensive in the event that our identity is attacked, and will immerse ourselves in resources that support our convictions.


The media does a stupendous job of supporting this. News sources will be labeled either right leaning or left leaning, depending on what they report or how they report it. In separate spheres of influence, we look to our own perceptions of the world, disregarding the other side to an issue because their bias does not agree with our own. What we should do instead is recognize the bias in all news sources, not just the “other one,” and then make an informed conclusion. Only then can we extract the facts from the phony. And that’s all-inclusive; I’m definitely not great at it either. But in order to do so, we have to be willing to put ourselves in each other’s shoes. So of course we need to approach conversations with the intent to understand rather than attack. Because as far as I’ve seen, neither side really does understand. Why are people protesting the president-elect? Conversely, why has he garnered so much support? These are the questions we need to ask each other.


Furthermore, we have to remember that the media does not report on peace. When’s the last time you saw a headline reading: “NYC—Nothing went wrong today, we’re actually doing pretty alright.” Never! Because that’s not interesting! The pressure on journalists to find a captivating story can lead articles to become jarring and hyper sensationalized. A good article will capture your attention and incite an emotion. Unfortunately, the easiest one to get at is fear. You see reports of car accidents, terrorist attacks, and articles railing on presidential candidates. Journalists employ all types of bias to make their pieces more riveting and thus, increase viewership. This includes downplaying, emphasis, and selection biases. Along with the fact that free speech gives us free reign to post unfounded claims anywhere, we need to take all this into consideration upon reading anything. A recent study from Stanford University determined that 80% of students can’t distinguish real from fake news. So the average person gets most of their news online, and a large majority of them are highly susceptible to falsehoods. Regardless of the impact on the election, our focus needs to be on improving this specific type of literacy. That is, our ability to judge the credibility of a source and to maintain skepticism in everything we read. We cannot argue fact with fiction.


This election has taught me that we need to better our sense of empathy. We need to listen, especially to opinions that directly oppose our worldviews. We need to distance superficial party loyalty from our honest opinions, and emphasize the latter. We need to cast aside the feelings of reproach because they are not productive. And, most importantly, we need to learn how to read. 



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