In the social media age, it may feel as though we’re better informed than ever… And in a lot of ways, we are. We have access to breaking news from all over the world. Within mere seconds we can become abreast of everything from momentous political events like the election of a world leader to a great tragedy like an environmental disaster. All thanks to the tiny plastic and glass rectangle in our pockets. We can learn and disseminate news from every corner of the planet.
But while we have an abundance of information in the digital era, we’re slowly but surely losing the skills necessary to decode it effectively. Increasingly we form opinions based on a headline rather than nuances of data. We are quick to share content without understanding its meaning. And this can make us very vulnerable to propaganda both from our own governments and radical groups. With this in mind, here are 5 ways in which we can all protect ourselves from propaganda…
Don’t assume that propaganda died with Goebbels
One of the reasons why many of us fall victim to propaganda (especially when it comes from within our own state) is because we aren’t looking for it. We assume that propaganda is the stuff of Nazi Germany and Soviet-Era Russia and has no place in our enlightened digital age. But the truth is that the 2010s could be considered a new golden age of propaganda. In an era where news outlets know that the right attention grabbing headline can lead to virality and a vociferous reaction from their target audience, our opinions are arguably more open to weaponization than ever.
Be wary of ideological echo chambers
The best news outlets are those that employ journalists and editorial teams from a diverse range of social, ethnic and educational backgrounds with a mixture of political leanings. They do not provide a didactic voice which tells you what to think, but present you with opposing viewpoints and let you from your own opinions.
Whether you’re looking out for news from Palestinian territories or recent goings on in your local community, it’s a good idea to check and cross-reference a range of news sources. When we live in ideological echo chambers we can suffer from confirmation bias and find it very difficult to change our minds about virtually anything.
Always find and check the source
Any news outlet worth their salt will cite a source from which they came by their information. This may be an article from another publication or an individual whose name is not disclosed in order to protect their identity. Wherever possible, you should always find and inspect the source. You might be surprised by how much news outlets with their own agendas can distort the information from primary sources.
Finally, question everything you read. Even if it’s from a news outlet that you trust. Never swallow anything a single outlet says whole, whether it’s telling you that women have equal pay in the workplace or that dangerous threats lurk at your borders. When people believe everything they read from a single outlet this leads to rote learning… And inevitably tribalism over nuanced discourse.