lunes, mayo 16, 2016

Junk news

If we stopped reading mainstream news, would we be any more ignorant?

My hypothesis is that the opposite would happen. For proper democracies to work, we need to be informed well enough to be able to take decisions as individuals. Nevertheless, as one can see from the political debate in Spain, the campaign by Donald Trump in the US and the Brexit campaign in the UK, the mainstream news outlets peddle lies, half lies and manipulation. There food is their readers partial or total ignorance.

As citizens, we all have a role to play. However we are rarely well informed enough to make judgements on general issues. We read the news and mostly learn about terrorism, immigration, refugees, political corruption... Yet we only develop very superficial awareness and none of the deeper knowledge of the issues leading to these phenomena. We are thus ripe to manipulation from politicians who use sweeping statements and generalisation to carry voters with them.

That is not to say that we should not want to hear about these issues, but that we should approach them through sources that present them from an angle that is relevant to our expertise. If I were a doctor, I would want to learn about the reality of zika from a scientific perspective; a lawyer might want to know what judicial obstacles get in the way of Brexit, whereas a security expert might seek a serious and informed risk analysis of the terrorist threat, beyond the emotional hysteria that is the preserve of the mainstream titles.

Was this not the promise of Internet? Information tailored to the interests of each and every one of us. Instead we seem to live a culture of emotion, spread virally via memes and turning us into a society founded on rumour and reinforced, almost legitimised, ignorance.

Top quality, specialist journals have a high price on them, reflecting the work that goes into researching and producing their content. They can however be made available to a wider, specialist audience via the companies they work for, the associations they belong to and so on. Mainstream news is however, for the most part, free. Perhaps this is also a reflection of its true value. In the language of Standard and Poor's, "junk".