An opinion based on falsehoods and corrupted data is worse – and potentially way more dangerous – than having no opinion at all. Or at least that’s the conclusion I came to after a must-read article in The Guardian, titled How technology disrupted the truth.
In the age of clickbait, and with genuine news outlets struggling with their business models, quality reportage is hard to come by. Facts get distorted and misrepresented, due diligence has become a thing of the past, and as the article points out, media has started to publish outright falsehoods in hopes of getting those clicks and shares.
When there is so much more incentive to create noise – sensation, clickbait, and negativity bias (fear sells) – finding signal becomes more difficult. It’s simple statistics. Even though there are outlets producing quality journalism, with a conviction to find the truth and facts, they are vastly outnumbered by sensation-seeking fear mongerers.
The major issue is this: people are known to form their worldview based on what they see and hear in their immediate environment. This environment does not include just the tabloid headlines in the local supermarket, but also the things that find their way into your Facebook news feed. And when most of that consists of unverified facts, misinformation and outright falsehoods, we are turning into a society where public opinion is increasingly based on something other than truth or factual information.
This a dangerous course to take. Brexit just happens to be the most recent and major example of what this kind of environment can lead to. In that case the public opinion was consciously manipulated and misled, as has become evident after the referendum. And it is now having staggering implications to the British society.
When it became impossible to deny that cigarettes are a major cause of cancer, governments started to require warning labels in the packs. Tabloid news and clickbait journalism is turning into something even more dangerous. At least with cigarettes most of the harm befalls to the smoker, not the rest of the society.
I support freedom of speech in principle, but perhaps certain media outlets should likewise be required to carry a warning label. Determined by how vigorously they pursue journalistic quality and integrity. “May contain falsehoods and unvalidated claims. A worldview based on misinformation is highly detrimental to your personal well-being and to those around you.”