Wading through the rampant disinformation in media today requires a healthy dose of skepticism

Gerry ChidiacWe live in an age of information and misinformation simultaneously. Never has there been so much useful information and so much nonsense to weed through. This puts a great deal of responsibility on the shoulders of those who consume media. It is also very liberating.

Many of us remember the days when the news we received was limited to our local newspapers and radio and television stations. Special interest magazines and newsletters offered some alternative perspectives, but their distribution was limited.

Not long after the end of the Cold War, we saw the dawn of the internet and hoped for the free flow of information. The rise of social media, with its preference for sensationalism, seemed to exterminate this dream, and our world became more polarized.

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But maybe the dream is not over. Hopefully, we are learning that an informed public is the greatest hope for the future. With the rise of healthy skepticism, we are beginning to recognize when we are being manipulated and can dig deeper to find the truth.

Just as we saw contradictions in reporting during the Cold War, we now see “alternative facts” from various news sources.

How do we know who is telling the truth? The best way is to simply ask a lot of questions.

The most important question is, “Who is paying for this?” Is it a particular government? Is it a corporation trying to promote a product? Is the news source more interested in good ratings than telling the truth? Is this seemingly alternative news source funded by a nefarious billionaire trying to create confusion and turn potential allies into enemies? Is it funded by a not-for-profit that has a particular agenda?

One example of disregard for the truth now coming to light is Fox News reporting of the “big lie.” While the network began reporting the 2020 American presidential election honestly, its realization that its viewers wanted to hear about how the election was stolen from Donald Trump led it to change its narrative. The issue is now in the courts, and the findings will give us a clearer idea of what happened in the Fox News corporate office.

Another example of misinformation was MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reporting on the Rage Against the War Rally in Washington, DC last month. Maddow’s narrative portrayed the rally as a small gathering of people waving Russian and Soviet flags, white supremacists, and right-wing extremists. In fact, the rally included well-respected representatives from the left and the right. It would not be unreasonable to question whether Maddow’s cynical “reporting” on this peace rally had something to do with the generous funding her network receives from the arms industry.

Fortunately, there are reporters and news services that prioritize truth. To distinguish them from conspiracy theorists, manipulators, and liars, we need to ask more questions, such as “Why are you telling me this?” We can also question their sources, listen for gaps in their logic, and question their biases, expertise, and reputations.

We are no longer bound to the narrative that CTV and the CBC impose on us. There is a plethora of news from many sources available to us at the click of a button. Our challenge is to search intelligently, avoid echo chambers, keep an open mind, and continue asking questions.

Finding the truth is not always easy, but it’s worth the effort. No other generation has been as fortunate as ours when it comes to freedom of information, but with this freedom comes our responsibility to be critical media consumers.

Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages and genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.

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