Fake news. It’s a term that gets thrown around so often in the United States that it’s become as much a punchline as an accusation. The President of the United States has declared the media to be an enemy of “the people.” The Russian government has taken advantage of American’s dwindling faith in news media to advance their own narratives inside our borders through their clever, if ham-fisted, uses of social media. Social media platforms, private corporations like Facebook and YouTube, are taking it upon themselves to assess the validity of the news you receive and censor the messages they decide aren’t worthy of wider distribution. These varied issues are all truly tied to a single thing: the American public’s eagerness to outsource important ethical and moral decisions to someone else.
Here in the United States, we have a bad habit of demanding someone else take responsibility for the problems we face. We demand our lawmakers pass knee-jerk legislation immediately after something tragic happens, often with little concern for legitimate analysis into what could make things better. When we can’t force laws into action, we turn to powerful corporations with the same fervor, demanding that Facebook curtail the spread of fake news rather than demanding a level of social responsibility from our peers or even ourselves. We’ve come to think of hashtags as a tool of social change, and of corporations as the governing bodies that must enact our will but when it comes time to do our part, we willfully ignore our own pleas for honesty and objectivity. We choose our teams, we choose our news outlets, and we reserve our complaints about disinformation for the opposition only.
Rarely a week goes by without me being accused of harboring some secret political agenda in my work — often, I’m accused of both being a fascist and a communist for the same articles — and I usually take those angry, CAPS LOCK laden messages as a sign that I must be doing something right. No matter what “the news” of the day is, the fact that it’s notable and worthy of discussion almost always means that it will be at odds with someone’s personal beliefs, biases or expectations. So when Donald Trump directs the establishment of a Space Force, half of the country wants an article that decries it as a terrible idea because they don’t like Donald Trump. The other half, of course, demands a story about Trump’s foresight and executive vision. Nearly no one wants an honest appraisal that addresses how discussion of a space specific branch of the military extends much further back than Donald Trump’s statements. Even fewer want to participate in a frank discussion about the real concerns regarding the endeavor, which truly boils down to just trying to find the best way to allocate finances to address a threat the defense community agrees needs addressing. The American people want all stories filtered through a lens of for or against, and they prefer their positions to be fed to them through outlets they know share their political sensibilities.
Now, I know there are a lot of reasonable people reading this piece and taking offense. “I may have some biases, but I try to explore both sides of an issue,” you’re saying to yourself, “and this just sounds like a journalist’s sour grapes!” I don’t doubt that you’re a well reasoned, well-read person that’s really trying but take a minute to look around. While you read an article and assess its points for yourself, others are mashing their keyboards anytime the headline says something they don’t like.