Today, I picked up the newspaper and was confronted by the subject of ‘fake news’. This is something I feel increasingly concerned about. My concern is not simply that fake news pervades so many of our information sources, but more that we seem, as a society, only too happy to readily soak fake news up as fact, without questioning it.
Earlier this week, I went for an evening meal at The Ship Inn, in the ancient village of Dunwich, here on the coast of Suffolk. The meal was an opportunity to catch up with some friends; themselves Therapists in the fields of Shiatsu, Ayurveda Massage and McTimoney Chiropractic Therapy. I have to say that alongside a cheerful and fun get-together, within which we enjoyed reminiscing and also chatting about a wide range of therapy subjects relating to each of our specialisms, the food was delicious and the service was friendly. The staff were happy to provide gluten-free versions of the menu, upon request.
One of the things we mused over related to a discussion I had listened to on the wonderful BBC Radio 4, earlier in the week. It was about the recently debated issue of news articles on social media, that are subsequently found to be untrue; ‘Fake News’.
What If It’s Fake News?
The discussion raised the subject of how many people now access news stories on social media sites. The main concern was that we are reading news and current affairs stories and accepting them as fact, without verification. We are also less inclined to raise a counter-view, or argument, that another perspective exists. This lack of questioning, the members of the discussion stated, was of particular concern regarding younger people; many of whom may have never experienced journalism that is an unbiased presentation of facts. Today, our news channels on tv have stepped away from a neutral presentation of fact and instead present the opinion of an ‘expert’.
The nature of no longer questioning, or arguing, what we are presented with was described as being an end to ‘critical analysis’. Critical analysis is the fundamental basis of science but, within our humanity, it is also significant to our health, safety and evolution. If we step away from critical analysis, we risk becoming beings who are simply ‘fed’ opinion that may ultimately influence every aspect of who and how we are.
Maintaining Our Instincts.
During the week, this issue was further brought home to me by a client of mine who described a sense that the teenagers my client is a parent of, seem to be governed by an unhealthy sense of self (ego) and willing to soak up, as fact, the numerous articles presented to them on social media; without question. This is not the first time a parent has raised this issue with me and I believe, based on the current apparent lack of education about how to interact with information on the internet, this trend will only continue.
We must not assume that this issue is not important. Our fundamental ability, and instinct, to question, to argue and to present and consider other viewpoints is wholly related to our psychological well-being, our safety and our health as a society. It is completely linked to our scientific progress as a species and significant to our entire political construct.
How Are You Influenced?
Next time you watch the news on tv, try to notice how many times you are presented with opinion that influences how you perceive the events being discussed. Next time you are reading news posts on social media, think of how many people are simply posting and re-posting this information as fact, without anyone questioning it, challenging it or presenting another viewpoint. We must now consider the consequences of a humanity that lets go of the skill of critical analysis and what the impacts of that might be.
When we use the internet anything we search for, like or feature is recorded by the artificial intelligence that underpins the internet (that’s the best technical explanation I can offer!). This information is then used in what are called algorithms; ensuring that advertising is presented to us based upon what is known about us and this is also used to ensure that we receive news and information stories mostly related to our interests, tastes and preferences. This means that it is wholly possible for us to exist in a sort-of ‘media bubble’; only being exposed to what we like.
Knowing the Risks.
The risk, in such cases, is that we are then no longer exposed to views that are opposed to our own, to perspectives that differ from ours and to whole aspects of news, information and humanity that do not fit into the way we choose to live. This creates the risk of further division within humanity, rather than the growing together, breaking down of boundaries and the sharing that humanity may otherwise be working towards. Our whole experience would become narrowed.
The only way to overcome this, is to ensure that critical analysis is a skill which is taught to us, from childhood. Let us teach the next generations of the importance of questioning, seeking evidence to support or refute and seeking other perspectives and considering other possibilities. Not only will this help them do well in life, but it secures for humanity the fundamental freedom to connect, grow and develop. It reduces the opportunity for dictatorial States, extreme religious or ideological indoctrination, corporate power and the erosion of rights and freedoms.
In my role as psychotherapist, I also encounter adults, of all ages, who occasionally lack skills in critical analysis. The lack of this skill is often linked to stress and insecurity. For people in my profession, we have the perfect opportunity to help our clients to learn to consider other viewpoints; helping them to expand their options and horizons as they develop.
If you have a view on this subject, please do leave a comment and share your own perspective.
(C) Dean Parsons.