Fake news and shallow knowledge must go hand in hand. I don’t watch the news in the morning and I don’t pick up a newspaper in Mac, so in between class and club meetings I take a couple minutes and scroll down Facebook, glancing at headlines. This is what's easiest for me, so it shouldn’t be surprising that when I try and talk with someone in-depth about world events, we run up against a wall. The people I spend time with—classmates, roommates, and friends—know about as much as I do, which isn’t much.
Millennials tend to absorb news the same way, and we want access to different stories to be quick and easy. And then, after those harsh realities, we want videos of cute animals and DIY tutorials to take the edge off. Facebook algorithms favor posts that you actually watch or read, and unfortunately, this rarely includes substantial news articles. News on a platform like Facebook encourages us to breeze through many stories and puts up roadblocks, which keeps us from delving into important topics. More and more, I’ve started to think about the notion that "the medium is the message.” How we receive news is just as telling as the news itself. And since we often gather information solely from headlines, government corruption and nuclear war gets about as much attention as silly cats. What does this say about us as a generation?
It’s chilling to see a headline about North Korea and then laugh at something trivial from the BC Meme page. Nor do I want to especially write an essay with rising sea levels on my mind. But banking on headlines to tell me what I need to know isn’t the right answer, because reading the news just to be able to nod along isn't sufficient. Not knowing what is going on in the news is actually a good precursor to heated debates that leave both sides of the political divide feeling alienated. Young as we are, these are the years we tend to become stuck in our ways.
News on Facebook and Twitter also plays an important role in skewing everything you hear. You can only ever hear one side of the story if you only glance at headlines. Shallow news frequently demonizes people—celebrities especially—and lets guilty people—like politicians and producers—slip through the cracks for a good long while. Recent media companies are trending towards interfaces that are designed to be read quickly. The Skimm and Morning Brew are two companies marketed to people with busy lives. Old style newspapers are falling in line too, dabbling in electronic versions and email updates. While maybe this is only slightly better than headlines, it still offers more information than we’re used to getting from traditional social media.
Facebook and Twitter are the medium, and the message is that people writing news don’t believe we care about any sort of depth or integrity. They think we care about sensation and scandal more than unbiased facts, and we haven’t done much to prove them wrong. Reading articles that present both sides of every story is the only way out of our polarized debates.
I can’t say that I miss the “good old days,” or feel nostalgic for a time I never knew. I can’t think I know of a time I’d say with certainty presented unbiased facts. But I can say that I’ve learned through trial and error that productive conversation can’t happen without knowing the other side of the argument, and it certainly can’t happen if you barely are knowledgable of your side.