Today, here in the UK, it’s time to vote.
Have you decided which party you’re going to vote for? If so, how exactly did you come to your conclusion?
Perhaps now, more than ever, your decision won’t have been made after reading the manifesto of each party. If your letterbox is anything like mine, it won’t have been made after reading leaflets – I’ve not had any. Nobody has knocked my door and there’s hardly and posters or signs up around the town. Instead there is a huge shift in the way that political messages are delivered to your eyeballs.
We live in incredibly interesting and fast moving times. Traditional news sources – from newspapers to radio and television – are being pushed aside. People are instead consuming “news” in a different way. A lot of the time, it’s not really “news” in the traditional sense of the word either. It’s posts from your “news feed” on Facebook or Twitter. The lines between trusted, researched, fact-checked news and made-up, fake news are becoming extremely blurred.
Meanwhile, with dwindling circulation figures and comparatively tiny advertising revenues from their online versions, traditional print media is having a hard time. Exclusives and considered, un-biased news articles are taking a back seat in some newspapers, replaced instead with brash attention-grabbing headlines which scream from the page.
Meanwhile, floating around on social media, there’s lies and slander. There’s staged, edited or fake images. Charts and screenshots of supposed “evidence” sit uncomfortably close to tweets and Facebook updates from traditionally trusted news sources which – although arguably more trustworthy – also add a bias and slant in a certain political direction.
Yet, something else is happening. Despite the fact that there’s no basis in fact for a lot of the Facebook shares you receive, you don’t have the time or the inclination to check into it. Who does? Who can be bothered? We’re a generation that can only just about handle 140 characters. If it’s any more than that then… ahh, let’s move onto the next tweet shall we?
We have an inability or reduced need to question the information that we’re being given. We know it’s probably far less “shocking” or “ground breaking” than the clickbait article would have you believe, but we still read it anyway. We still inwardly digest it.
Why the heck do we somehow remember that information even though a lot of us are aware that it’s probably not totally trustworthy?
Personally I believe that it is not necessarily the information that you trust, but the person who is sharing it out. On Twitter it’ll be one of those people you follow. You follow those people because you like them. You want to hear what they’re saying. You’ve actively subscribed to their updates. Likewise, on Facebook, your “friends” are the ones feeding you the information. You like those friends. You have a natural trust that they’re going to be telling you the truth or you’ve at least assumed that they fact-checked it, even if you’re not going to bother.
It must be true. My mate told me. Right?
Then we get to my final point, and that’s the fact that you instinctively surround yourself with people who share your viewpoint. Without knowing it, you create an echo chamber where your outrage of the most recent Donald Trump post is shared and accepted by your virtual peers.
Best of all, it’s not just Twitter or Facebook. These are the sites where you can customize your “news” feed to match your opinions.
If you have a favourite online newspaper (and yes I’ll mention the Daily Mail here), it will attract many thousands of like-minded people. The reporters employ loaded phrases and wording that attempts to influence by appealing to emotion or stereotypes. The output is at best misleading and damaging, but their comment sections are even more powerful. The Daily Mail comments area is massively popular – eclipsing most other online newspapers by a massive margin. By using “Up voting”, which may or may not be tweaked for effect, it gives the impression that your peers are massively agreeing with the author, and that then sends you a message. It tells you that you are the odd one out if you don’t agree.
Fall into line. Comply with the message. Agree with the editorial bias.
It’s social engineering in a way.
Want in-depth analysis? Perhaps you’ll listen to the BBC Radio 4 news and pour over a broadsheet newspaper? Sure, you can do that, but you’ll also have social media posts and comments which attempt to discount the BBC or the broadsheet as biased. You shouldn’t trust them. Your supposedly well-researched news is actually a big load of crap and it’s just engineered to maintain a government or editorial message.
Heck, even the President of the United States tells you that your trusted news source is actually broadcasting fake news.
Should you rely on the word of the President? Or the CNN anchor?
Who can you trust?
You can’t trust the politicians. They break promises. They get on trains and tell you that they’re full when they’re not. They put taxes up when they say they won’t. They say that we’ll give £350 million to the NHS if we leave Europe, then they probably won’t.
You can’t trust the President of America. He’s bat-shit crazy and needs a padded room.
You can’t trust the media. They’re fighting for life and publish ever-more exaggerated news to get you buying and watching. There’s an intolerance and an underlying narrative which is dressed up and presented in some sort of authoritative platform which you’ll trust because it looks and feels right.
You can’t trust your friends. They’re retweeting and re-sharing stuff that may or may not be real. It’s probably some fake LADbible video or Photoshopped image which was only created to promote a brand, product or to feed the general public with some viral message.
You can’t even trust me. I’m a blogger. I could just be bending the truth and writing in an abrasive style to increase my reach and impact. Perhaps get more clicks on the adverts so that I can pay for all the servers powering this site.
How do we restore the authority and the trust?
I’ve really no idea. Perhaps this is why the recent EU Referendum and Election results have been so hard to judge. We’re all believing the information from our own echo chambers and we’re disbelieving absolutely everything else.
The air of formality and credibility has gone.
To bring this into focus, to really show you what I mean, it’s perhaps best for me to add a tweet that the orange-faced fool in America has recently posted out. News outlets cover these tweets and reporters almost roll their eyes at it. However, if we put it into an official Presidential press release, it becomes clear how much things have changed..
Quite scary huh?
Perhaps go back to the 3D world. Go outside and see if the council have cut the grass. See how long you’re waiting for an operation at hospital. Check how many teachers your local school will need to shed as part of budget cuts. Do your own investigations and make the decisions based on evidence you’ve collated yourself.