Editorial: Educate yourself before you wreck yourself

At one point in time media outlets, like radio and television, weren’t giving such unfair attention and bias to one political figure or situation over another. The public trusted the media to provide them with adequate information, at least to some degree. Unfortunately, even though the integrity of many news outlets have changed, the public’s reading habits haven’t.

“Clickbait” headlines catch faster than the wildfires that consume California every year, and the information gets regurgitated as fact by every passive reader that thinks a headline is a literal summary. Those titles are meant to draw page views to news sites that provide too much hype and too little substance, writing articles to snag emotion and provide the loosest form of “truth” that doesn’t cross into out right lying.

The millions of views websites like Facebook, Reddit and Buzzfeed plaster on the stories offer a misleading confirmation bias, resulting in a snowball of ignorance that ends in the comment section of the article instead of more research. Not including the awful amount of celebrity endorsements being taken as expert commentary, like Jenny McCarthy’s claims about vaccinations.

This is compounded by the bandwagon effect of having two sources release an article on the same subject, and having one gain instant “trending” popularity while the other gets ignored, simply because the other had more views first. And typically the pages that get shared are the ones with interesting headlines.

Too bad “interesting” and “quality” aren’t synonyms.

Further, different sources will have different skews. Obviously outright bias should be avoided, but skewing to one side or another is mostly inevitable. For example, a headline from Fox News reads: “‘Bill Clinton Inc.’: Email details how top aides helped make ex-president rich.” Already an obviously leaning title, it doesn’t help that the article opens right away with “confidants” appearing to reveal information concerning ” at least $50 million in speaking fees and other ventures for the former president.”

In contrast, the same story was released by the Washington Examiner titled “WikiLeaks memo exposes ‘Bill Clinton Inc.’.” This title is already improved, it doesn’t make a claim that has to be proven or use a qualifier like “rich.” The text of this article, also in the first paragraph, is equally better. It labels the venture as a more complex situation, stating that it is “blurring the lines between the Clintons’ personal finances and their philanthropic empire.”

Both articles use the same sources of information, but only one chooses to take a firm stand on one side or the other. The differences are vital when attempting to discern fact from opinion, or even fact from cleverly-worded-to-sound-bad fact. It isn’t difficult to make a moral gray area seem like a black hole of community destruction.

We can only hope that some of the worse sites fall before they spread too much misinformation, but in the end, the only way to actively combat the rapid transmission of poorly researched information is to do the research yourself. Find the actual source of your information before you share that headline on Facebook, you might just learn something.