‘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.

No More Victim Blaming

When Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, he had 12 allegations of sexual assault against him.

When Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, he had 12 allegations of sexual assault against him.

Honestly, think about that. Think about how shocking and disgusting that is. That means that twelve women came forward and spoke up about how this man put his hands on their body without their consent, and the majority of the American people heard that and just kind of went, “yeah, whatever. That doesn’t say anything about him as a person. I’m sure he’d still make a good leader.”

That means that the majority of the American people heard these twelve women speak up against a very public figure, something that must have been incredibly difficult for them to do, and they either didn’t believe them or they didn’t care.

And you know what makes me even angrier at this whole ordeal? Imagine what it would have been like if Hilary had come forth and said that she had been sexually assaulted at some point in her life. Not by Donald Trump, just by anyone. It doesn’t even have to be recently, just at some point in her life. There would be people applauding her for her bravery, sure, but I bet you anything that there would also be those who question what sort of person that makes her. Was she drunk at the time? Was she wearing revealing clothing? Was she leading him on, like some sort of slut? Did she deserve it? Because we can’t have someone like that leading the country. Clearly, being sexually assaulted as a woman is an indication of a lapse in character.

And clearly, being responsible for sexual assault is no problem at all. It doesn’t affect the kind of person you are. It doesn’t make you any less capable of leading a country (even though half of its population consists of the very people that he’s proven he doesn’t see as people). Being a sexual predator means nothing at all.

Fuck that.

You can call me an angry feminist all you like, because you know what? I am angry.

I’m angry because when my mom was a teenager, the police advised her not to seek legal action against her rapist because it was her word against his, simultaneously robbing her of her chance at justice and entrapping some other poor girl to the same fate. The very people who were supposed to keep her safe and protected did this to her. I’m angry because that was in the 1980’s – it is now 2016, and things still aren’t any better. There are still women who are afraid to come forth about their rape.

I’m angry because of men like Brock Turner and all the pandering, misogynistic men lost in their own heads around him who excused his actions and let him get away with the violation of a human being. I’m angry because, according to the judge, it would have been unfair to give Brock Turner a long prison sentence for a crime that witnesses saw him commit – never mind how unfair it is that his victim now has to live with the resulting trauma. She isn’t an athlete or a man, after all, so that somehow makes her trauma okay.

I’m angry because the first questions that always come to the public’s mind when they hear about a rape case don’t tend to be “is she alright” or “how could he do such a thing”. No, it’s the same old bullshit about how they can somehow pin it on her, somehow make this traumatic experience her own fault. I’m angry because people so rarely blame the rapist, when he is the only one at fault.

And that’s when the woman is believed – there are so many situations where it’s just assumed that the victim is lying. Take Donald Trump for instance, or any situation where a woman (or women) come forth about being assaulted by a celebrity years after the event. “Well, if he did it,” some people say with their nose in the air and a holier-than-thou attitude, “then why didn’t she say anything earlier?” Honestly, think about that statement: you are doubting a woman for speaking up, and yet you wonder why she didn’t speak up? Not to mention: he’s a celebrity. He’s a rich and powerful figure with lawyers who could probably crush you and a fan-base determined to see him in the best light possible: why would she speak up? And this doesn’t just happen with celebrity cases, either. The idea that “the woman is lying” is so common that it’s practically become a trope, and while I have heard of cases where women have lied, I can assure you that they are such a minority that, really, it isn’t a problem. Think about it: why would a woman subject herself to all of that for a lie? Why would she allow herself to be doubted and blamed, slut-shamed and accused, for something that wasn’t real? And, more importantly, why are we doing all of these things to innocent victims of traumatic experiences!?

This needs to change. And as much as I’m encouraged by the fact that people are talking about this issue more openly lately, especially with such big cases in the news such as the Brock Turner case, it isn’t enough – and the baffling election of a sexual predator as president of the United States is proof of that. We need to do something. We need to demand a change, we need to talk about it more, we need to consider the way that we think about these things. We need to stop ignoring or putting the blame on the victim. We need to make this right.