Friday, December 16, 2016

Advanced Bullshit Detection for your protection: Wise words on reading the news

There's been lots of news on the news in the news recently. Just like we try to take care of our bodies by eating healthy foods, we must take care of our societies by carefully consuming quality news. The importance of a high-quality, balanced media diet is independent of your political convictions. 

But how do we keep our news reading habits healthy? What do we do? This morning I came across a great video explaining four steps that everyone can take in order to achieve a healthier news diet. The video is an interview with Curd Knüpfer at the Freie Universität Berlin published by Die Zeit with this article. Since the video is in German, I provide my own translation of the four steps here. I tried to make the translation as accessible as possible.  

I call it "Advanced Bullshit Detection": these four steps are what we need to be spending our time doing in order to protect ourselves while reading the news.

As a media consumer, you have to develop an attitude towards yourself so that you see yourself as someone who chooses news cautiously. There are guidelines that you can follow, and that you can make into habits:

1. Ask yourself questions about your own emotional reaction
When I see an article or a news items that that makes me particularly angry, one to which I have a very strong emotional reaction, one that makes me nervous or fearful, then I should stop and think. I should stop and ask "Wait a minute, what is this information actually saying, and why is it having this effect on me?"

2. Check the quality standards
Develop an eye for what good, meaningful journalism is, and how news articles are created. This means that one can look at any form of journalistic reporting (it doesn't matter where it is from or its political direction). You can say "It's better if an article on a particular topic cites more than one source" or if more than one source is cited, "It is better that more than one perspective is represented."

3. Pay attention to the sources of the information
Of course you need to pay attention to the sources. Can I, for example, trust someone who works for the Freie Universität Berlin? And, if I think that I can't: Why can't I? It also works the other way around. You can say, "Hey, there's someone who knows this topic relatively well!" It doesn't mean that you take everything they say at face value, but at least you can trace back where the person is from and who is paying them, etc.

4. Balance your media diet
Balancing your media diet is a luxury that we have because we live in a world in which media is digital. It is relatively easy for us to access a large number of different sources of news, and we should also take advantage of the diversity available to us.

Thank you Curd Knüpfer  for these wise words (did my best not to lose anything in translation).