After a tragedy that hits the feels because it’s close to home, massive amounts of people take to Facebook and spread stories about it. Take the New Zealand instance. Westerners relate to New Zealand because it’s Western. We think it’s generally a safe place, so when a shooter walks in and kills everyone inside a place of worship, us Westerners relate. That’s okay. Same goes with tragedies that happen in France (see the passion behind the Notre Dame cathedral fire), England, the United States, and so on. It wasn’t necessarily because the NZ victims were Muslim, as even Christian and/or white victims get a similar amount of treatment (and to an extent, Western people’s buildings get an even more phenomenal treatment) as long as they’re Western.
Notre Dame. Still there.
But then there always follows a wave of guilt shaming. Saying, “You people paid attention to this conflict, but not to these other conflicts! How dare you!” Then they’ll find tragedies about their own in-group, and rage on Facebook trying to shame people into feeling guilty about this or that. After NZ, posts came up about Nigerian Christians who were killed, or about the ongoing murders of Christians in Syria—curiously those same people had nothing to say later in their posts when 200 Christians were murdered in Sri Lanka (instead of shaming people, imagine if you just shared things). After a jihadist went nuts and stabbed people on a bridge in London, people found some instance about brown people in whereverlandistan, saying, “Ya’ll only care about white people!” And so it goes.
This is, I think, a big symptom of only getting your news on Facebook. Let’s say you deeply care about Nigerian Christians getting murdered. When the NZ attack happened, it certainly felt like the world was ignoring what you cared about, because they’re Muslims! And then you see that someone wrote an article just about that, so that must be what’s happening! But what’s really going on is that’s what the people on your feed care about. They are not The News, they are an echo chamber. This is why it’s important to actually take the time to visit news sites from time to time and not depend upon Facebook as your source of news.
Echoooo! choooo! oo! o!
Facebook shares content from your friends. So you are only seeing content that has been curated by a group of people that you yourself have curated. Does media seem too liberal? Check your friends list. Does it seem to conservative? Check your friends list. There is no Facebook editorial board—which can be good or bad, because true editorial boards can follow agendas (as apparently even the FB algorithm is wont to do). But then also you get caught in an echo chamber, a spiral of news from people with similar interests as yourself. These people share blogs, news articles, and so on that reinforce their (and your) world view, further pushing you into your own slot and so you no longer exist in an objective world, but everything becomes more and more subjective, further slanting your ability to process information.
You might be surprised to hear this. There has always been fake news. Media has always had an agenda. The first newspapers were run by political parties. They popped up all over the place along with/leading to the parliamentarian form of democracy. Most parties in the European parliaments had a newspaper when they first formed, and many political groups had newspapers and newsletters in wide circulation. Americans might be familiar with Thomas Paine, a prominent newspaper writer, and even the Federalist Papers were a kind of newspaper that was being passed around. All these were produced with political intention, which is to say they represented their side, and not fairly so.
Social-Democrat newspaper in Munich during the Weimar Republic
Media has always sought to create their own narrative, not always in line with history—common during the Weimar Republic were newspaper reports about how the Jews betrayed Germany in World War II, or how there weren’t any Jews on the front lines (they were actually overrepresented in the Kaiser’s armies). Trotsky got his start writing newspapers for the Communists in Tsarist Russia, Lenin wrote tracts, Goebbels was a newspaper editor. I’m not mentioning all these guys to say that journalists are by and large bad people, but rather that they all write with an intention or agenda, even when they don’t want to or are aware of it. And on top of that, there are editors above the writers who are pushing those agendas, and are only letting through specific articles with specific messages that reinforce that journal’s (and therefore party’s) narrative.
It’s not really that different in the modern media. Each news company is owned by one person or another who guides his editorial board in one direction or another for one reason or another. In most post-industrial free market economies, the reason tends to be fairly simple: money. And as politics means money, the media most certainly plays a political game as well.
News is money
It’s all about the Benjamins
Take, for instance, John Stankey, the CEO of WarnerMedia. WarnerMedia owns Warner Brothers, HBO, CNN, and Turner Broadcasting. Given that he manages a company with such a portfolio, you might assume he was a pretty die-hard Democrat. And you’d be wrong. Stankey is a lifelong Republican and regularly donates to the RNC and donated to the Trump campaign. What’s up with that?
I imagine Stankey is a pretty good businessman. He figures that CNN resonates with a large liberal audience. So he feeds stories to that audience in order to make money. And that’s the bottom line (literally). Media organizations, just like every other corporation, exist solely to cater not to your best interest, but to what will get money. For the past one hundred years or so we’ve become confused—and even enamored with such confusion—on the difference between money-making and self-interest and indeed, another person’s self-interest.
So what to do about it?
The best way to read media is to understand that it is written with a purpose. It doesn’t matter if you’re watching CNN, Fox, a Ben Shapiro YouTube video—they’re all the same and they all have corporate backers (you really think YouTube guys are some sort of underground rebels preaching the way to truth and freedom?). There’s a reason why at the beginning of every Alex Jones or Joe Rogan video, they start with a long list of their sponsors. Then they continue with a message that they know will retain and/or get new viewers. More viewers means more money. That’s it. And if YouTube thinks the blowback from hosting their services will generate less revenue, they will ban them. That’s it. It’s Capitalism, baby. Capitalism is and has never been about securing freedoms, it’s always been about the movement of money.
"Let me first explain all the people paying me to tell you this BS. And you should most definitely buy their crap."
So understand that. CNN might be pushing one agenda because their cousin company works in that field. Maybe they support a set of Democrats because those Democrats and them have a shared interest (in say UPS, who Stankey serves on the board of). And I’m using CNN here as an example, but we can also go with Fox, or Breitbart, or any other company that has carved its moneymaking fiefdom.
So number one: filter what goes in your brain.
Number two: filter what goes on your screen. The best thing to do is to drop Facebook as a device to read about news. Then pick five news sources. Two of which you know to be conservative, two of which are liberal. Then pick another outlier, maybe a foreign media group or one that doesn’t show overly much bias (but keep in mind, they all do, especially the free ones, because they’re not actually free). Ones that are quite open about their slant can be even better. HuffPo and Jacobin for instance, are clearly far left journals. You can read it and understand that. Breitbart or the Blaze are clearly far right. There’s no hiding there.
Read. Digest. Process. Synthesize.
Circles and arrows, it must be true!
The truth usually lies somewhere in the middle.
And the best thing about reading from sources you disagree with, is that you can learn that not everything written is true. Then apply that ability to sources you agree with.
And then recite that Reinhold Niebuhr prayer that recovering alcoholics like so much. Is it within your control? No. Then take a breath. Release. Have a glass of wine. Enjoy the view. Say hi to your neighbor. Do a good deed today. Start with what you can manage. The whole world doesn’t live online. Rather, the whole world lives around you. Today. Right now.