It’s uncontroversial to say 2016 was a crazy year. I won’t rehash all the ridiculousness, but a former reality television star with an affinity for Tweet storms is set to become President of the United States and no one saw it coming — especially in the media. They spent the entire election cycle trying to convince the populous (and themselves) that the election was locked up for Hillary Clinton that they failed to see what was really happening. They wrote off his “huge” rallies and his millions of followers on social media as a vocal minority. Long story short, the most respected pollsters and political pundits got it wrong, and this is just the latest in a growing trend of mistrust and disinterest in traditional or so-called “mainstream” media.
So where do we go from here? If the people don’t trust the media that’s been an American stronghold since the invention of television, how do we get our information? Well, people are increasingly seeking out alternative news sources. Of course, these have their own problems as many of these report blatant falsehoods or at least news with a large spin. This has brought about the internet’s favorite new buzz phrase: Fake News. Facebook is under fire for giving a platform for fake news to go viral since they have no human-driven filtering process and rely solely on algorithms to push the most shared to the top. There’s problems with this, and there has been outcry from many over the situation, but Facebook has legitimate reason for shunning the human element because humans are biased. Facebook once had a “trending team” that they fired because the team was pushing their own biases.
So what’s the solution? It appears news consumption is presently stuck, to use the old adage, between a rock and hard place. It appears we’re left with two bad, very different choices (sound familiar?). We can choose to allow fake news to flourish or buy into what amounts to unprecedented censorship of information that is sold to us as filtering for our own good. The first doesn’t sound great, but the second sounds Orwellian. Do we really want the mega corporations like Facebook and Google deciding what is worthy information for us? I’m on the side of hell fucking no.
Perhaps we should look at this a different way and think about how we can use technology to both get real and true news, while keeping the freedom of information flowing. Billions of people globally have high definition cameras in their pocket, and citizen journalism has risen astronomically since the advent of social media, allowing us to get raw unedited source material. This boots-on-the-ground approach is working when it comes to world events. People are not waiting for the nightly news. They’re going to Twitter to watch it unfold live. New media companies like VICE have followed suit in this approach and are telling stories that would never have been covered.
Still, when it comes to the most polarizing of subjects — politics — it’s a completely different story. Personally, I believe in technology. The algorithms that are pushing erroneous stories today will get smarter. Decentralized algorithms will be built by unbiased developers using open- source technology that will learn how to filter truly fake news out by scrubbing mass amount of data comprised of sources, comments, shares, et. all. We don’t need a list by of fake news sites by some biased college professor to protect us from what she deems irrelevant. Technology has solved so many problems in our society and we mustn’t be scared to have it help solve this one. Our news should not be more biased and more censored when we have an infinite amount of sources to choose from compared to when we had three. Our news should not exist within a bubble that give us hive mind thinking. We should get differing viewpoints that allow us to think
for ourselves and draw our own conclusions. Information has never been so readily available and accessible. It’s time we start using that power for good.
– Trace Rucarean is a senior at the University of New Mexico