Misleading and Toxic Media

Image via Santa Cruze Sentinel

Image via Santa Cruze Sentinel

Gwendolyn Janik, Writer

Think for a minute about all of the media that you are consuming. Have you ever noticed trends that keep popping up on your feed or are circling the news? How many articles make your blood boil to the point that you hate someone because they see something differently? The media we consume is a large part of what makes us think in certain ways. If the news that you are consuming is telling you lots of terrible things about groups of people, you are bound to eventually believe it and hate those people. The problem is that the media rarely cites primary sources, they’ll take quotes out of context, and they will choose to use either percentages or raw numbers depending on whatever will fit their narrative the best. If something seems too good (or bad) to be true, it probably is. 

One of the ways that articles will mislead you is by avoiding citations of primary sources. When news outlets talk about gun control they love to cry in outrage at “loopholes.” Every time they talk about this, they will do one of two things: 1, cite other articles that are more opinion pieces, or 2, won’t cite a source at all. The law that the articles should be citing is 18 USC 922, but it doesn’t fit with the narrative of “loopholes” in the law. The lack of primary sources should be a red flag while you are reading the article. If you are reading an article that circles around by citing more opinion pieces, the odds are that something they are saying is not true. That’s not to say that every article written by that news channel is automatically wrong if one article is lacking outside and primary sources, but we are at a point in time where we need to pay attention to what is being fed to us.

Fox News claimed that Democrats “hate our system and most of the voters.” It is appalling to me that we live in a time where one of the big news channels is telling us about half the population and that the other half hates them. This is creating a cycle of hate where the right-wing consumers feel justified in hating left-wingers, then left-wing media will use that hate to get left-wing consumers to feel more justified in hating the right-wingers, then right-wing media will use that hate to get right-wing consumers to feel more justified in hating left-wingers, etc. Do you see where I’m going with this? We are pushing each other further and further away, getting more and more divided.

Covid-19 has been a recent topic that has divided the people even more. Media that leans to the left tends to switch between large numbers and large percentages to convince their consumers that it is very deadly and something to be terrified of. Media that leans to the right tends to switch between small numbers and small percentages to convince their consumers that it is nothing to worry about. Both sides of the media are typically looking at the same numbers, but they are purposefully choosing when to use numbers or percentages based on what fits the narrative they are trying to push. This is why it is important to be aware of what you are consuming. If you are only consuming right-wing media, you might not be aware of some of the risks that are present with Covid-19, but if you only consume left-wing media, you might not be aware that it’s not as extreme as the media would love you to believe it is. Pay attention to the next article that you read and see if they alternate between numbers and percentages. They will also say that the odds of something happening have risen some percent, but they won’t tell you what the original odds were. This is another way that they can remain truthful while still being misleading. If something happened 5 times last year and this year 9 times, there was an 80% increase in that thing happening. The problem is, we weren’t told what number we got it. Was it 5 out of ten and then 9 out of ten? Was it 5 out of a hundred? Or a thousand? Does the base number change between years? That’s something to look for and keep in mind while you are consuming media. It still was an 80% increase, but if you don’t know the original rate, you can’t know what the new rate actually is unless you take the time to look into it yourself. Most people are busy and don’t have the time to dig into the numbers to make decisions based on them.

Too often, the media stretches the truth or lies. When you’re reading a news article remember to keep in mind the ways that the truth is manipulated. If a story is making you feel very strongly, consider that the article might have been tailored to increase that emotion, whether it is anger, happiness, fear, or sadness. To get this emotional reaction from you they might have been messing with percentages compared to raw numbers. They could have also been feeding the cycle of hatred that is tearing our country apart. We need to stop letting the media divide us and finally listen to each other from the perspective of people, not political parties.