Recently an engaged reader thanked us for being a dependable and relevant source of non-fake local news. The compliment made me think deeper about the topic of truth.
It is easy to assume that in the age of the internet, finding the truth would be one of the great benefits that the communication revolution has enabled. But there are several fundamentals reasons why the “truth” can be hard to determine.
The first reasons lie within ourselves. Too often we are being naïve or are simply too lethargic to question the information we are consuming and the motivations of the authors and the media channels that provide the material. It takes work to check the facts and cross-reference several sources. It has been proven that false information easily spreads through social media without being properly vetted or questioned.
Often, we choose to be comfortable, wanting to hear or believe what we have been told. We build our own information gates by listening to news sources or social circles that tell us want we want to hear. Notable broadcasting personalities and media brands are taking full advantage of this and have built successful business models around it.
Another reason the truth often eludes us is because of the commercial structure of the media system. Audiences have gotten used to paying little or nothing for content. It makes most publishers dependent on advertising revenue, which in turn makes them less independent in what content they are willing to publish, what risks they are willing to take or what angle their content takes to help them gain audiences.
As an example, most American news sources lean either left or right, all claiming to know the answers and overdramatizing every little speckle of news without putting it into proper context or timeframes — often to the point that the story is not news anymore but a news show aiming to entertain rather than inform.
Another disturbing trend is that publishers have adopted the practice of publishing paid content, making it difficult for the audience to identify between true reporting and paid information that hides as actual content. This practice can make it difficult to do even simple things online, like searching for trustworthy information about a product. Many brands will not hesitate to pay for positive reviews or user feedback, and popular rating sites will allow an establishment to bury a critical review. While these practices reach deeper than most consumers can even fathom, their only consequence is to sway us to buy something we might not need or buy brand A versus brand B.
The most concerning reason that the truth is in peril is the spreading of intentional false information — including fake news, false claims etc. — that is being produced by powers that have an agenda, be it political or commercial. This type of manipulation of opinions clearly undermines fact-based decision-making, policy-making, and even democracy.
The issues with identifying the truth mean both the media and we, as citizens, have our work cut out for us. We must become more vigilant audiences checking our biases as well as the outlets and support the media channels that remain unbiased and credible.
In the meantime, our team at Hilton Head Monthly will continue to work hard to live up to our mission to connect the Lowcountry and be a viable source of information for our readers.