“I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad,” begins Howard Beale’s famous rant in the 1976 blockbuster, Network. A veteran anchorman who has just been fired, Howard Beale spirals into desperation and unleashes a torrent of anger on live TV.
“We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV’s while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
Howard has a point. If you spend much time watching or listening to the news, you can easily begin to think that things are very, very bad. Turn on the TV, look at a newspaper, or open Facebook—I can guarantee that in five minutes or less, you’ll see some bad news.
But not everyone agrees that things are bad. In January 2018, Bill Gates wrote a special essay for TIME Magazine aptly titled Some good news, for once. He opens with, “Reading the news today does not exactly leave you feeling optimistic.” He goes on to list many reasons to be optimistic about the future, like the progress we’ve made toward eradicating global poverty, promoting civil and human rights, and educating the world’s children.
“So why does it feel like the world is in decline?” He muses. “I think it is partly the nature of news coverage. Bad news arrives as drama, while good news is incremental—and not usually deemed newsworthy. A video of a building on fire generates lots of views, but not many people would click on the headline ’Fewer buildings burned down this year.’” Bill is a bit more charitable toward media companies than he should be, I think. I’d be willing to bet that TIME sold just as many copies of their “Good News” issue as most of their drama-filled issues.
Any semblance of objectivity is long gone, replaced by a morally bankrupt new strategy: flood the airwaves with a gish gallop of biased, exaggerated, or patently false stories
In most cases, sure, a panic-inducing headline will sell more copies, get more clicks, and generate more ad revenue than “all is well.” But does ad revenue justify the harmful effects that a constant stream of bad news has on society, our emotional well-being, and our culture?
For most media companies these days, the answer is yes. Any semblance of objectivity is long gone, replaced by a morally bankrupt new strategy: flood the airwaves with a gish gallop of biased, exaggerated, or patently false stories that sow enough confusion that people keep reading, listening, and panicking.
There are still plenty of problems to fix in the world, but stupefying viewers with incessant catastrophes on a 24-hour news cycle has obviously degraded the integrity of news media as a national institution.
People are fed up and tuning out en masse. 68 percent of Americans believe the media is biased. 64 percent are wary of fake news causing confusion about the basic facts of current issues and events. 1 in 4 American users have deleted Facebook. And only 6 percent of Americans trust the media.
So, how do we stop it? Here are three ways to regain control of your headspace, verify the facts, and fight back against fake news.
1. Vote with your eyeballs. If you see an article, TV special, or any other piece of media which is obviously designed to be incendiary or divisive, just ignore it. Change the channel, keep scrolling, or “hide” the post on Facebook to train the algorithm not to show you that kind of news. Refuse to reward bad behavior by earning them ad revenue.
2. Be skeptical and think critically. If you’re not sure whether you can trust the information you’re reading, ask yourself who would benefit or profit from people believing it. Journalistic integrity has been dead for decades, so don’t believe everything you read and try to get the facts for yourself, rather than someone else’s biased interpretation of them.
3. Get your information straight from the source. When in doubt, get the facts from their origin. News article cites dubious facts from a scientific study? Read the original study. Partisan website putting a political spin on things? Find a more neutral source.