- Date published:
7:00 am, June 2nd, 2019 - 21 comments
Categories: drugs, journalism, Media, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags: bias, facts don't matter, fictions, irony, legalisation, marijuana, media accuracy, research, social media, truth
Recently, before Budgetgate, I came across this piece with a promising title: Social media – bringing falsehoods to a screen near you. On the site’s front (landing) page, it was advertised as
“Blurring facts and fantasy video OPINION: Fake news is everywhere – do your research.”
At the top of the article, it even had a video showing the PM with this caption: “Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern talks with Stuff Political Editor Tracy Watkins on foreign aid and fake news.”
I was poised to be pleased reading this. So I thought.
And how disappointed I was.
It starts off promising enough. Apparently, “most of the country’s leading magazines” employ (or contract?) “skilled and experienced reporters to develop their editorial content, and often equally skilled lawyers to ensure the accuracy of the article or feature”. Skilled reporters and equally skilled lawyers, no less. The reason touted is to be “respectful of it’s [sic] readers and advertisers”. It could also be that they don’t like to be sued, but likely it is a bit of both.
The reasoning assumes that the readers of those magazines want to be informed. I reckon most readers want to be confirmed rather than informed and, of course, entertained. Publishers want to sell magazines so they give the readers what they want, of course.
The piece then goes on to lament the lack of the same safeguards in social media.
Getting it right doesn’t seem to matter much any more [sic]. Much of what is published via social media and elsewhere today, is opinion presented as fact.
Worse than that is material which deliberately sets out to mislead, often to support a particular view or agenda.
I couldn’t agree more there. So far, so good.
By and large they are un-checked. Often their material is shared and re-circulated many times over. And people will believe what they say.
My observation of this ever more dangerous news cycle is that it ultimately extends into the traditional press.
And then the real kicker comes.
He had heard a politician speak on talk radio on drug law reform. The female politician had said “that there was no evidence anywhere in the world where legalisation of marijuana for recreational use had impacted road crash statistics”. Clearly, this didn’t confirm the author’s bias and he went online to quickly find ‘facts’ that supported and re-assured his views on this.
And yet, a quick Google search on the impact of legalisation in Colorado, United States, which legalised marijuana use for medical and recreational purposes in 2014, will show that deaths from motor vehicle accidents increased from 488 in 2014 to 648 in 2017 according to the state’s Department of Transportation statistics. An increase of 33 per cent in three years. Is there any other explanation?
The sad fact is that the more often people get away with publishing inaccurate information, the more it will happen. Ultimately the falsehoods will make it to the traditional press. [my bold]
I also went online and did a quick Google search, as you do when somebody challenges your bias. The top-ranked article I found was Traffic deaths rose, then fell, after three states legalized marijuana – But that’s not the entire story. Things obviously are not as clear-cut as one would like to think or believe. The irony is palpable.
The point is not whether legalising marijuana caused a spike in traffic deaths in Colorado. Nor is it whether this could or would happen here in New Zealand if drug laws were to be reformed and liberalised. The point is that with so much inaccurate information around, so muck fake shit spouted by people with hidden agendas, the best approach is not to search for the first confirmation of your own beliefs and then stop. The point is to engage your brain, tackle your own inevitable bias, and challenge your own beliefs.
We can’t all have a considered opinion on all things that is based on proper research, validated evidence, and sound critical thinking. I think it is perfectly ok to say that you don’t know, that you’re not sure – let your inner Socrates (or Rumsfeld) speak. It beats by far stating an unsubstantiated opinion and claiming it as the truth.