The News is Broken: How social media journalism is perpetuating dangerous news consumption


Words || Christina Athanasopoulos

The media is in crisis. The news is fake. Nothing can be trusted. We are stuck in a perpetual echo chamber and blindly seek out confirmation bias. Everyone is offended. Everyone deserves to be offended? Help.

Social media has become an increasingly mainstream news platform. Though there are many reasons why, perhaps a large reason for it’s ongoing success has been the failure of mainstream news sources to maintain integrity. A CURRENT AFFAIR is a classic example of journalism playing into the fears and anxieties of the public, rousing unfounded public rage over something as trivial as a plastic bag ban. This does nothing more than amplify the tanty being had by particular members of the public.

TV journalism often recounts convenient public opinions that will trigger an exaggerated response, rather than researching, digging deeper, and analysing the situation. The result is that audiences have moved to social media to intake news, longing to escape the brain dead whinging of TV journalism.

Social media is so appealing as a news platform: convenient, easily accessible, prompt and up-to-date. This new dynamic has resulted in our expectation that news be quick to read, but shocking and attention grabbing enough to click on. The value of news is measured by clicks. To maintain a viable business, old school news outlets have expanded online, so they’re playing the same attention grabbing game harder than ever before: shocking, fear-driven, angry news, or, you know, the Royal Wedding.

So, what about the social media news sources? The pro is that we get to choose which news issues we consume, and the political perspective that news is framed from. We get to learn more about the issues that interest us and are able to form stronger arguments for our values and beliefs. Sounds rosy! But the ability to choose exactly what we are exposed to, combined with the quick and fear mongering nature of modern day news, results in context-lacking propaganda disguised as news.

Shitty journalism is a major contributor to the polarization between the political spheres, and it isn’t just the right wing that is guilty. Historically, the right have used stereotypes to discredit the left without engaging with their arguments. One of these stereotypes is the ‘Crazy Man-eating Feminist’. The left have advocated against using stereotypes to silence minorities. However, the modern left is really good at shutting down conversation with the right by using loaded terms such as ‘Nazi’ and ‘White Supremacist’. Sound familiar? The left’s new secret weapon is offensiveness, and what is more offensive than a doctrinal racist? If a lefty is offended by a conservative argument, a hyper-offensive stereotype such as Nazi is used to undermine their merit without debate. It’s important to call out this hypocrisy before it destroys the credibility of the left.

This has been seen in the portrayal of Jordan Peterson online. Social media news platform NOWPOLITICS was able to chop up some provocative quotes uttered by Jordan Peterson, frame him as a neo-Nazi and member of the alt right, put it together in a video that was legitimised as news on Facebook, and thereby declare war upon him and any of his supporters. A fear mongering message that reaffirms leftist concerns, making us feel a greater sense of purpose in our quest for social justice. Even I, an active consumer of socio-political news and someone who values open-mindedness, believed this stuff to be hard hitting. Stuck in a perpetual echo chamber, I grew angrier and angrier at the right without ever engaging with media created by them.

What changed? Someone told me that the video I shared by NowPolitics on Peterson was context-lacking and that I should do some more research. Because I respected him, I did. I found hours and hours of well thought out, logical, reason-giving arguments given by Peterson. I even agreed with his argument on the need to protect free speech, which becomes a slippery slope by criminalising hate speech, an indefinite term that relies upon the subjectivity of offensiveness. On the points I disagreed with, I began to form rational counter-arguments, rather than hiding behind the White Supremacist card. I was finally getting both sides of the news and forming my own opinions based on diverse information.

This illustrates that our intake of news on social media is often driven by our hunger for confirmation bias, no matter how woke we think we are. News on social media repeats to us the views we agree with, making us feel a false sense of security in our beliefs. It feeds off content that is clickable. The news should instead be confronting, provocative and truth seeking. We must refrain from seeking out the most thrilling, quick and easy articles, expose ourselves to views that counter our own, and think deeper about the news. We wouldn’t want Trump’s ‘fake news’ allegations to be further legitimised.