In recent days we’ve been given healthy doses of why newspapers and professional journalism still matter.
I’ve been keeping with my previously announced plan to limit my social media diet to no more than two hours a week, but I’ve been on Facebook and Twitter just long enough to see what horrors social media has wreaked on the truth.
The first incident involved a group of Catholic high school students from Kentucky who were confronted by protestors on a field trip to Washington, D.C. The confrontation took place at the Lincoln Memorial. The boys, who were wearing Make America Great Again (MAGA) hats were being verbally accosted by four black protestors.
Rather than retaliate, the boys asked their chaperone if they could do their school chants to help drown out the insults in a positive way. Permission was granted and the boys started doing their school cheers. About this time, an elderly Native American beating on a drum confronted the boys. He got in the face of one of the boys, who just stood there quietly smiling.
Video of this incident was posted on social media and instantly went viral. The message that went with it, however, was that the boys confronted the protestors and began chanting “build the wall” and hurling other insults. It was the complete opposite of the truth. Yet celebrities, “media” outlets and hordes of people on social media began spreading the lies and condemning the boys without questioning the source or checking the facts.
Not only were innocent boys vilified, but along with them all Trump supporters, their Catholic faith, and whites in general. What’s worse is it just deepened racial and political tensions that are ripping this country apart. It gave people another reason to be angry and to spread lies and hate across the Internet.
My next example, I must confess, tripped me up. I began to see multiple posts on Facebook about how New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and that state’s Legislature passed a law that allows abortions up until the moment of birth. It was so rampant on my social media feeds that I believed it to be true. That was reinforced by seeing similar headlines on Yahoo and Google pages.
It was easy for me to believe because abortion is a touchstone issue with me. My pro-life, anti-abortion beliefs are so strong they shaped my political leanings and became the benchmark I use to judge political candidates. It ties perfectly with my Christian faith and dwells at my moral core.
I found it deeply appalling that any government and any people could legalize and celebrate the slaughter of innocent, defenseless unborn babies, especially those beyond the point of viability outside the womb. It made me sad and angry. Fortunately, I never shared any of those items on social media. If I had I would have been guilty of spreading lies.
While it’s true that New York did pass sweeping abortion legislation and celebrated it by lighting buildings pink, the laws were not nearly as liberal as I had been led to believe. It was not abortion on demand up to the point of birth. After checking out the facts, I discovered that the legislation was a pro-active response designed to keep abortion legal in New York should Roe v. Wade (the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion) ever be overturned.
What the law did was de-criminalize abortion and move its regulation from criminal to health law. It expands the right to perform abortion beyond physicians to include physician assistants, licensed nurse practitioners, and licensed midwives. It also allows for an abortion after 24 weeks to protect a woman’s health or where a fetus is not viable.
While I still find most of these actions deplorable, I am equally disturbed by the inflammatory and deceitful “stories” about it circulating as fact on social media. Both of these cases would have never circulated the way they have back in the days when legitimate news organizations were gatekeepers of the news. These and countless other cases illustrate the dangers of social media.
In the days before the Internet, newspapers, television stations and radio stations were held to a high ethical standard when it came to reporting the news. Stories were thoroughly researched. Perspectives were sought from all sides involved. Facts were checked and checked again. Editors not only checked spelling, grammar and style, they also questioned facts and held reporters responsible for their work. Stories didn’t make it to print or broadcast until they were reasonably researched and verified to be as factually accurate as possible.
Even now professional news organizations stand as gatekeepers of the news, but the advent of the internet has torn down the walls. We no longer govern information, it flows all around us. Unfortunately, so do all the lies and opinions that pass as fact. Social media has become a purveyor of most of that misinformation. Don’t blame the Russians, President Donald Trump, or legitimate news organizations for so-called fake news. Blame the person in the mirror. Blame every person who blindly shares every headline and meme they see that agrees with their opinion or ideology without considering the facts or the source of the information.
Information flies so fast in the electronic world and so many people are manipulating information or creating outright fabrications that discerning what is true and right is becoming increasingly difficult. Even honest, legitimate news organizations have their websites so cluttered with paid posts that share so much of this drivel that their own integrity is now in question.
The best way to dig through the garbage for the nuggets of truth is to actually turn back to the sources that have always reliably presented the public with true news. You won’t find this social media mayhem printed in your local community newspaper. What your will find are stories about your community. We have information about local governments, schools, sports teams, entertainments, and much more. We may not have the resources and staffs that we did in the pre-internet days but we do have the same mission.
It’s a mission we carry out as diligently as we can because the news we print is for and about our neighbors. It’s the information you want and need about your own community. We’re not here to spread sensationalism in order to get likes and shares. Our purpose is to inform, educate, and entertain our readers. We’re not here to mislead you or to get your dander up. If that’s what you’re after, then by all means trust social media for your politics and “news.” Just don’t be surprised when you get suckered by fake news. It won’t be our fault.