Bad news, fake news: Reversing the erosion of responsibility

Published on May 10, 2019

The past few years and rise of social media have highlighted the irresponsible use of influence. Technology has advanced to where content can be delivered to a mass amount of people quickly and people have turned into data-consumption seekers. Social media has its place in society, but in terms of fake news it is at the center of the erosion of responsibility.

In 2001, I argued my dissertation titled Technology Induced Attention Deficit Disorder which could have been prophetic, however I missed the mark by a long shot. In my argument, I explored how technology was changing the way humans reacted to receiving information and that it was training the mind to expect information more quickly. I never anticipated a complete change in human behavior with the advent of social media, smart phones, online gaming, and streaming services. This addiction has increased news and political influence.

Do you remember when you were in grade school and you and your friends would play the telephone game? Technology has amplified the issue of storytelling and news reporting through those often-coveted words in media: going viral. Once a piece of data goes viral, it is expounded on and shared through that same grade school process. Each time the story is shared, it takes on new meaning and creates new influence.

This isn’t a new problem, but it is a problem that has been rocket fueled by technology. What happens when you add bias to, what was once, objective reporting and sprinkle in the ability for information to always go viral? You get irresponsible influence. It’s no wonder that we as humans must now question our information literacy in the face of many news outlets that are considered biased.

At the receiving end of this irresponsible reporting is the entire world. We are all subject to fake news, daily, and must decipher what is truth and what is lies. This can become an issue for more than just us as humans, it can devastate entire companies or even entire countries. Politics, social issues, hate speech, and racism seem to garner the most attention as reporters and journalists insert their bias into issues from the moment they begin communicating.

Context and circumstance are often excluded from the bigger picture, which produces stories that focus on minute facts while denying their context and circumstance from entering the public opinion. This increases the danger of news going viral as stories that are taken out of context and circumstance can be wickedly twisted by just about anyone. Then there is the issue of news that doesn’t have a shred of truth to it at all, and those are far more dangerous when going viral.

When democracy is threatened, what will we do about it? As an individual, you have a responsibility to control your words and actions. Your responsibility is your influence that you spread, through in-person conversation and social media posts (no matter how small your following is). Every time you make a post or comment containing what you believe to be facts, it is your responsibility to check that they are for certain facts and not just yours or someone else’s opinion.

As an individual of influence, and I mean to say that you all have influence, it’s your responsibility to stop the erosion and segregate the differences between your personal emotions and the truth. If you are able to do this, you will develop your influence in a more positive way. Not to mention, you will be seen as a more credible source of information. Being objective does not require that you change your position, it only requires you to carefully evaluate the facts.

I do not mean to say that you cannot be biased or choose a side to issues. We are all free to be who we wish within the context of laws, regulations, policies, and procedures that guide us. However, I implore you to recognize your and others’ bias and objectivity. Your ability to accept an opposing opinion, while maintaining composure about your own, shows a lot about your character and influences those around you.

Being a person of influence does not require a title or validation from others. It only requires an understanding of what influence is and that your responsibility as a human is to reverse the erosion in a positive way for the betterment of yourself and our world. It should be all of our goal to promote the influence of responsibility and objectivity.  

Dr. Brian Smith  is a Columnist at Grit Daily. He is the author of the newly released book, Individual Advantages: Find the “I” in Team. He holds a PhD in organizational psychology, a master's degree in management information systems, a bachelor’s degree in accounting, and is a certified Six Sigma Master Black Belt Consultant. Brian has been helping business owners and managers since 1988.

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