‘Fake News’ And The Problem With Bias

Fake news‘ is an idea that has been around for a long time now, referring to any news that was overly exaggerated or distorted or, in some cases, fabricated, so that it does not resemble reality and is, therefore, misinforming. This idea was popularized, however, when in 2016, Donald Trump accused the media of being filled with ‘fake news’.

When Donald Trump initially did this, he was criticized by many people for trying to discredit media that does not approve of him, as it is (conveniently) the press that disagrees with him that tends to be dismissed as ‘fake news’. Trump has been accused of trying to attack the press, and of spewing misinformation himself.

And yet, despite the criticism, Donald Trump’s use of the term ‘fake news’ has sort of affected the way that people view the news. More and more recently, I have been noticing people distrusting the news, or disbelieving the news that they do not like.

Maybe these are people who think that things are not as bad as the news makes it sound – such as those who maintain that Donald Trump saying “grab them by the pussy” is not him confessing to being a sexual predator. Maybe these are people who are confused by the multiple perspectives that the media might give to a singular event, such as the 2018 women’s march, which most news outlets maintained was an event to protest against Trump, while Trump himself maintained that it was a celebration of him. And, oftentimes, when people are confused, they choose the option that they like best.

And here’s the thing: I think that there is a little bit of truth to this idea of ‘fake news’ being prevalent nowadays. A little bit. I don’t agree with the assertion that most news is completely fabricated, but I do think that it is difficult if not absolutely impossible to report news that is unbiased.

I think that a lot of us depend on our news outlets to deliver the news to us completely unbiased. And I have heard many talk show celebrities, such as Ellen Degeneres or Stephen Colbert, criticized for presenting the news with a political bias. But I think the thing that many of us forget is that the news is reported by… people. People who have something to lose or gain by the news being reported in a certain way – whether that be public support, such as in Trump’s case, or political change, such as in Degeneres’s case (I mean, she is a gay woman, so of course she’s demanding political change; I don’t even know why that’s surprising to people).

And even when reporters don’t have anything to gain by presenting the news with a bias, they still come to the news with their own understanding of it. With every story, they have to decide what’s important and what’s worthy of omitting. With every story, they have their own opinions, and these opinions can creep up in endless, subtle ways, whether it be the language that they use, the way that they format the article, or even the picture that might accompany the article. For example, when reporting the Brock Turner sexual assault story, Turner would frequently be referred to as a “Stanford swimmer” rather than as a rapist, turning public attention away from the horrific crime that he committed, and toward his so-called ‘promising career’ as an athlete.

This is biased. And I really don’t think that we can get away from this, as human beings: we can only switch from one bias to another. I have to admit, I cannot write any of this without bias. I simply feel too strongly about a lot of news stories, and I think we’d all be lying if we said that we didn’t all feel strongly about one thing or another.

And the problem (the problem that I think is exasperated by this idea of ‘fake news’) is that, when we see bias that we don’t agree with, we want to close ourselves off. We don’t want to hear anything that is being said. We want to think that the entire story is a lie.

And when we have this idea of ‘fake news’ to fall back on, we have a great excuse to ignore the entire article. We don’t agree with the bias, so we don’t agree with the story. So the story isn’t true. It’s fake news.

And this becomes a problem when people are ignoring real facts, picking and choosing what they believe based off how they feel. Because, sometimes, the way that we feel isn’t necessarily the best indicator of what actually happened. Sometimes, the way that we feel is informed more from our own bias than from truth.

So then, what do we do? How do we find out what truth is, when truth is so frequently hidden amongst bias?

Well, there is no easy answer to this, because bias will always exist, no matter where we look. It is everywhere, in every article, in every perspective, in every individual involved in the story itself. The only thing that I can suggest, the only thing that I have found that works, is being as informed as possible before putting forth an assertion or opinion. And what this means is doing a lot of research. A lot of research on the story itself, written about by multiple reporters, and a lot of research into the history of the story. For example, if you are trying to form an opinion about the Brock Turner sexual assault story, then it isn’t enough to just read a little bit about the story itself; a lot of additional research needs to be done into the history of rape culture and the statistics around the issue.

And this research is time-consuming and difficult. It isn’t as easy as being told what happened and how to feel about it, which is why I think many people would rather not do it. But the problem is, when we don’t do this research, we don’t fully understand the issue. We only know one perspective on it, and that isn’t enough. It most certainly isn’t enough when what we are doing is passing opinions on a story that affects our entire culture and the way that people live.

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Why We Can’t Let Hope Die In These Difficult Times

I don’t know if there has ever been a point in history where the world-wide news couldn’t be described as … depressing.

That isn’t to say that the world is a terrible and awful place. But terrible and awful things do happen in it all the damn time, and lately, I’ve personally found myself more deeply affected by it than usual.

And trust me, I’m usually affected by it. Outrage and desire for change are not unknown emotions for me. But, lately, a new emotion has been creeping up: hopelessness.

I have a few reasons for feeling this way. But as I don’t have all day to list them all, I’m only going to focus on one: the most recent shooting to occur in the United States.

It’s frustrating. It was frustrating from the moment I first heard about it on the news, because the way I see it, there are many countries that have proven one surefire way to avoid mass shootings by enforcing stricter gun laws, and yet the States simply refuses to do it. And because of that, people are still being murdered. Children are still being murdered. And I don’t understand. I don’t understand why the States seems to be engaging in this war on its own people. I don’t understand why the right to bear arms matters more than the right to live. I don’t understand, and I’m beginning to lose hope that this change will come about in the near future.

You might disagree with my view on this matter, but I’m not necessarily asking for you to agree with me. I’m only trying to explain where this hopelessness comes from.

And the reason why I am using this example to explain my hopelessness is because I recently watched a video posted to Facebook that featured a woman talking about this tragedy. In the beginning of the video, the woman echoes my own hopeless feelings, making such statements as, “Congress will do nothing to change this bloody course.” Yet, as the video continues, the sentiment begins to take a turn toward the optimistic, ending with such statements as, “Congress will not change, so we must change Congress.”

My initial reaction to this video was something akin to: “well, I agree with the first part, but the last part isn’t going to happen”.

How long has this been going on for? How many men, women, and children have already lost their lives, and received nothing but thoughts and prayers in return? We have gotten so accustomed to this endless cycle, of hearing about shootings, getting upset, demanding action, and then forgetting about it when action doesn’t come. Will we ever actually do anything different?

But the more that I thought about this video (and trust me, it stuck with me), the more that I realized that there was no other way that it could end but on a note of hope. And I don’t simply mean that in the sense that the video couldn’t gain traction on social media if it wasn’t hopeful: I mean it wouldn’t have served any purpose if it wasn’t hopeful.

If it ended where my recent thoughts have been ending, on this idea that change will never happen, then it would become a self-fulfilling prophesy: change would never happen. Nobody would be fighting. Because people don’t fight for things that they don’t imagine will ever happen. And if people aren’t fighting, then change will never happen. There will be no reason for it to happen.

Change won’t happen. People will continue to be murdered. It’s the same thing, every day, and we let it continue.

No, if there is any possibility of change in this world, it comes only from hope.

If you tell people that there’s a chance, then you open their minds to the possibility that you might be right. You make them see the possibilities. You make them want to fight to make it happen.

And maybe the steps we take are small, but they are still steps. Maybe the world isn’t made right in one day. Maybe there are still causalities along the way, and maybe that is a terrible tragedy. But an even worse tragedy would be to allow it to keep happen, to give the message to the world that this is alright. We accept this.

Because I don’t accept this. I can’t live with this. And from what I’ve seen of my community, I’m not alone in this thought process.

And it is very easy to lose hope in times like this. It’s very easy when you’re throwing yourself into the issue, full-force, motivated for the change and frustrated that you’re not seeing it. It’s very easy when you’re distanced from the issue, and you simply don’t understand why this is happening. It’s easy, but it’s also dangerous.

We need hope. Hope motivates action, and action motivates change. It just motivates change slowly. At a glacial speed, at times. But the small victories are still victories, and if nothing else is accomplished, keeping the fight going is at least a victory. Whenever you allow the fight to die, that is when the goal dies as well.

So whenever you are starting to feel hopeless, remember this: you are not alone in this. Even when it feels like you are surrounded by people who don’t understand, who aren’t listening, there are always going to be people in there who do understand. People who are afraid to speak up. People who need to find the courage to say something. And if you keep talking, if you keep fighting, you will eventually find these people. And together, you will be heard. You will create change.

The Importance of Freedom of Speech

Personally speaking, I take a lot of issue with the way that the American military is run – and there are a lot of problems with it. This “stand behind our troops or feel free to stand in front of them”, “you’re either with us or against us” mentality that people have that creates no room for question or discussion. The fact that sexual assault is a rampant problem in the military that people are, quite frankly, not doing enough to address. The fact that military recruiters target and take advantage of uneducated and poor children. Yet, whenever I would mention these concerns, and there was someone nearby who wanted to convince me to overlook these problems and regard the American military as an overwhelmingly positive force, the same comment would frequently be made: “these are men and women who are fighting for your rights. If it weren’t for them, you wouldn’t even be able to say that you disagree with them. If it weren’t for them, you wouldn’t have the freedom of speech.” And I won’t deny that; for years, the American military has been filled with men and women who fought, suffered, and died so that their fellows would be allowed to say things that would get you killed or imprisoned in some other countries.

Freedom of speech is a right that gets discussed frequently, and, it seems, especially lately. Growing up, I always took it for granted that freedom of speech was always a good thing.

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall.

Right?

Freedom of speech has been used to defend what are, in my mind, some pretty atrocious things. A homophobic baker refuses to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple, but he claims that he is only practicing his freedom of speech. White supremacists protest publicly against removing a statue of a Confederate soldier, but they are allowed to be there because that is their freedom of speech. In both of these cases, a message is very clearly being sent to a specific group of people: you are not respected and you do not belong here, your existence will not be tolerated. And this message is awful, and I apologize to everyone who has had to endure it.

And when these instances arise, there are people who say things like, “I don’t believe in freedom of speech if this is what freedom of speech is”, and I understand that. It hurts my heart to think that there are people out there who have to endure messages like these daily. So sometimes, it’s easier to think that we could just shut these people up and be done with it.

But we can’t.

Because we have a flip-side to all of this too. Freedom of speech is not only being put under question when it comes to hate speech lately, but American president Donald Trump has sort of put all freedom of speech into question.

The first time that I became aware of this was when he began his attacks against the media, referring to any news station that spoke poorly of him as “fake news”. Trump has even issued a press ban, refusing to allow certain organizations from attending press briefings at the white house.

But the thing that everyone is talking about now, the issue on every tongue, is the fact that Trump took to Twitter and actively supported the American people punishing NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem.

With this single act, Trump has issued a very clear message: freedom of speech will not be tolerated, so long as it is something he disagrees with.

And yes, Trump has supported free speech in the past, such as when he defended Jack Phillips, the aforementioned homophobic baker, claiming that he had every right to refuse the same-sex couple who came to him for a wedding cake. Which makes it very interesting that this is where he chooses to draw the line when it comes to free speech.

Because in this particular instance, the NFL players in question are actually supporting something that I agree with. While the act of kneeling has since become synonymous with rebelling against Trump’s stance on freedom of speech, this is not where the act began. Initially, kneeling during the national anthem was started with Colin Kaepernick, who explained his reasoning by saying that he refused to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour.” This is where the issues stems from: a very real, very constant problem in American culture. This is an issue that needs to be addressed, and by kneeling, Kaepernick hoped to draw attention to it.

And yet, by kneeling, Kaepernick and the other NFL players who later joined in unintentionally began a conversation around free speech, for they have not only been told that the workplace is not a place for freedom of speech (unless they’re a homophobic baker, for some reason), but they have had their own president attempt to punish them for doing so.

And, yes, I am aware that the reason why so many people are offended at NFL players kneeling for the national anthem is because, in their opinion, the flag and the national anthem deserve more respect than that. And I could talk all day about how odd it is that these people seem to be more offended by a black man kneeling during the national anthem than a black man getting shot in the street by the police, but I don’t know if I’d get anywhere with that argument, and the point is, these men have a concern that needs to be addressed. And shutting them up won’t get rid of that concern. Shutting them up won’t save black lives, and it most certainly will not increase their love or respect for the country that made them do it.

And that’s why freedom of speech is so important, in every way that it exists: because when someone says something, even if we don’t necessarily agree with it, it still means something. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away; addressing it will. And maybe addressing it makes us uncomfortable, but at least it makes us talk and develop and grow and change.

And, end of day, who gets to decide who is worthy to speak and who isn’t? I mean, Donald Trump is trying to assume the role of decider, but all this has done for him is create a divided country, neither side of which truly feels like their voice is being heard.

My whole life, I have always heard freedom of speech revered as this amazing force that needed to be respect. I have been told that it is a right that people have fought and died for, that is a rare privilege to be enjoyed by everyone who has access to it. And I still believe all this. I believe that, if you have a problem, speak it, because there’s no other way to address it. And maybe this does mean that, if we have freedom of speech, then everyone has freedom of speech – even those who are hateful and who we disagree with down to our very core, and maybe this does mean that people get emotionally hurt along the way. Life isn’t perfect, and even a system like this will have its casualties.

But just because someone says something rude and hateful and awful, that doesn’t mean that I have to tolerate it. That is me practicing my freedom of speech.