Skeptical by Default

by Kelsey Knoploh

Truth has always been an interesting concept, but also one that is incredibly difficult to determine or define. We all certainly value the truth and desire not to be misled or lied to. However, this fact has become increasingly true in an age dominated by social media. Social media forces us to critically determine whether or not we can trust our sources. Previously, due to the rise of modernism, scientific knowledge was the most trusted source of truth. Objectivity was something to be desired above all else. Even though the objectivity of science is questionable, it is still seen as a more unbiased source than many of the other sources of news.

However, we rarely receive news directly from scientists. This is partially due to the rise of politics in the funding and presentation of scientific discovery. The prominence of capitalism in American society has dictated the avenues by which scientists receive funding and therefore the way in which they present their discoveries. Often the companies who fund research are the ones who interpret it for public consumption, giving them the power to skew it as best suits their purposes. Additionally, we must accept that most news is about current events and politics, which is the type of news most prominent on social media. In fact, most sources of news have alarmingly shifted toward social media. While official sources of news are still used by many, social media has begun to outpace these sources in terms of delivering immediate news to the public. The downside of speed is that accuracy and accountability become less important. Due to the prominence of news via social media platforms, it has become increasingly difficult to determine the credibility of a source. The issue is complicated further by the bias of even the most credible news sources, much less the non-credible ones.

Furthermore, we can no longer escape having to discern between truth, exaggeration, and outright lies. We no longer get to easily control when we receive news and whether or not the sources are credible and unbiased. Whether it is a friend telling a funny story on Facebook or a breaking news article on Twitter, we constantly have to decide whether or not to believe them. While certain instances of false news can seem relatively harmless, we cannot deny the potential cost of not reviewing the credibility of news sources. For example, there was a recent, harmless Internet trend of crediting Hitler quotes to Taylor Swift. There was no malicious intent behind the joke, and it was simply a comical example of the multitude of false information on the Internet. However, false news or information on the Internet is not always so innocent. The Yes Men, an activist group, used the same type of deception to do millions of dollars of damage to a company whose practices were immoral. Deception of the public is becoming increasingly possible, and therefore we must guard ourselves against misinformation. However, the constant bombardment of information can be exhausting, which puts us at risk of merely accepting the news we receive as true.

In a sense, we must make our default mindset that of skepticism. Before believing a source, we must first look at it skeptically and determine if it is worth believing. In an age of the internet, this goal is not nearly as daunting as it sounds. Simple Google searches allow us to check the credibility of those authoring and sharing news on social media. Despite how simple this can be, it still requires that we be proactive in interpreting and accepting the information we are bombarded with on a daily basis. With experience, such a mindset of skepticism becomes second nature, which can greatly increase the ease with which we navigate in an increasingly more deceptive age.

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