"Global warming is real!"
"Global warming is not real!"
"People are discriminating against (group of people)!"
"People should have freedom of speech!"
The media seems to constantly bombard us with different messages. It can be overwhelming just to scroll through Facebook or flip through channels.
Here are a few strategies to cut through the flack and get to the facts and help you become a more informed citizen:
Analyze the source of the media. Is there a bias?
If you type in the title of a publication or network into Google Search the word “bias”, the results should tell you whether or not they have a conservative or liberal bias.
Note: Publications and networks with a religious bias should be used as a supplement to, not as a primary source for, your daily news intake.
The source is biased, what now?
Bias is nearly impossible to avoid, so now it’s time to dig deep. Are there two or more different sources quoted in the story, and do they provide two sides to the story? Does the author/presenter avoid aggressive diction when referring to the opposing side?
If you answered yes to all of those questions, then your source may not be horrible after all!
Use multiple sites/networks.
Reading one article or watching one news network is NOT enough. Try getting your information from three or more sources.
If an article seems sketchy, try doing a quick Google search to see if it's fake.
Check out snopes.com to see a list of articles that are confirmed as fake or true.
News shows like "The Kelly File" and "Hardball with Chris Matthews" provide an analysis (sort of).
Take all of these types of shows with a grain of salt. They are presenting the news according to their own political agendas.
Wait until 24 hours after a tragic event (like a shooting) to find more accurate information.
When tensions and emotions are high, it's hard to have a comprehensive timeline of events and fact-checked witness accounts.
Beware of the "false equivalence" fallacy.
On TV, two people with opposing view points will take up the same amount of the screen. A common example is a scientist versus a science denier. This creates the illusion that both sides are "equal" in their presentation of logic, when in fact they are not.
"If it bleeds, it leads."
Stories about death and injuries will always be picked over others. This is why reporters are more likely to turn their cameras towards people looting or starting fires rather than film the people peacefully protesting across the street. Remember: there are two sides to every story.
The media reinforces societal values and stereotypes.
All the time, 24/7 networks tell us that our values should consist of things like patriotism, capitalism, and democracy. It also repeats similar stories to emphasize negative stereotypes: all black people are thugs, all Muslims are terrorists, all Mexicans are illegal immigrants who want to steal our jobs, all women lie about their experiences with sexual assault etc.
Resist the temptation to assume that a negative news story about a person reflects an entire community.
Take the time to take a step back and look at the news with a fresh pair of eyes – and, most importantly, with your heart.
Bad things happen every day, but we must never lose our empathy for others.