Thursday, March 3, 2022

Fact, Fiction - Surviving Social Media

What is fact? What is fiction? With the rise of social media and independent news we find it increasingly difficult to tell the difference. After all, if a report is being presented by an official looking person on an official looking website, we can be forgiven for thinking it is true. 

But often these reports are false. Many invented stories are being presented as fact these days. And it seems that people no longer need to support their claims with evidence. We just need to say "the government is corrupt" or "climate change is fake" or "the virus is not harmful" and it becomes a sort of truth. Not actual truth, of course. But a pseudo truth which is treated as actual truth by people who really want to believe it. My favorite student, Plato, warned against this type of truth relativism.

So, what can we do? How can we guard ourselves from believing false information? A simple question may help. Does our favorite news source ever report the opposite of what we think? If not, we should be wary. Whenever we find ourselves following a news source that only ever presents information that we agree with, we should be highly suspicious. Why? Because a balanced source will present a range of viewpoints and information, some of which we agree with and some of which we do not. A source that tells us only what we already believe is not likely to be balanced.

This requires a level of critical self-reflection that we may find difficult. After all, it is reassuring to have our beliefs confirmed time and time again. But it is a rare person who has nothing but true beliefs. So we need our news sources to challenge us. To present ideas that we might disagree with. To sometimes tell us we’re wrong. Seek balance, and you may find yourself better able to tell the difference between fact and fiction.

- Socrates