Two official seasons have passed since I last posted. That glorious end-of-summer season, when everyone’s skin looks like they’ve just emerged from a glitter bath and life couldn’t seem anymore full. And then the season when school starts and we are pulled back into routine. A good routine but one that seems to scream “there shall be NO fun!” —until the weekends, at least. Then the leaves begin their descent to the ground and fun returns. The beautiful, authentic fun—the fun that whether you are 85 or 8, you can relate to it. The leaf jumping, the smell of bonfires, the football games… it’s a period that spans all time and place.
This year, a fifth season exploded between autumn and winter. And for the majority of us—Americans, expats and friends across the globe—that season sucked the life out of us. That season, we consumed way too much media. We became angry. We looked at our friends, our neighbors, the people we passed on the roads and we judged. I won’t lie, there were times when I saw signs in neighbors’ yards (note the plurality) and wanted to pull them out and rip them to shreds. I was angry. No, I wasn’t just angry, I was pissed. Shit, I’m still pissed.
Tuesday, Nov. 8, changed me forever. I graduated from college with a major in English and a minor in politics, so I’ve been fascinated with political process for awhile, what happened on Nov. 8 was the intercept of both my interest in media and politics. It showed that the media, and misinformation, not only shape public opinion, but also—potentially—public policy. We’re seeing a groundswell of individuals who swallow the news as truth and ultimately vote based upon that corresponding sentiment.
I don’t know the percentage of media consumers who have been discerning throughout the years, but I do know that once upon a time, journalists were. You see, when you’re a journalist, you’re supposed to follow a specific code of ethics that considers the sources, context and ultimately the accuracy of their work before publication. In short, that you should be able to trust that they’d do their due diligence to gather all sides of the story and represent the truth of the issue before publishing something.
But what’s happened for many online “media” organizations is that their “news” has evolved into propaganda. And with social media vehicles like Facebook and Twitter, it becomes easier than ever to spread that propaganda. And people are eating that stuff up, without EVER checking the validity of the information they’re spreading.
Sure, we can regulate the “news” agencies by focusing on social networking sites like Facebook and Google, but it should also be on us. Before we share something with friends, whether it be in a private email, to a limited audience on Facebook or to a larger Twitter audience, we need to do our due diligence to ensure the integrity of the information we disseminate. Studies show that nearly 62 percent of people are getting their news from Facebook (whaaa?!!). Fact checking the information ensures that we’re not repeating garbage that doesn’t reflect our own professionalism and integrity.
Regardless your leanings, no one should stand on the side of misinformation. We can do better and we can be better. We have to check our news and refuse to play the “click-bait” game in which media outlets prepare outrageous headlines, taunting us to click. We have to think critically about the information we read and take the time to educate ourselves on issues. We can’t just accept someone’s words as our own dogmas, because when we do that, we aren’t just doing ourselves a disservice, we’re doing our society a disservice.
Essayist and poet Adrienne Rich said, “Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.”
The fifth season. The season of discernment. Discerning what we read. What we believe. How we act and react. And pledging to be better.