Our global society has embraced a post-truth world. Authoritarian regimes like Russia, North Korea et al, have used disinformation tactics to control the messaging with Vladimir Putin being the most adroit abuser extending well beyond his borders. Yet, we have embraced disinformation and misinformation full bore in the US with our over-usage of fake news sights and purveyors of editorials disguised as news. And, too many politicians, especially our President-elect, seem to be less concerned with facts and truth than winning an argument.
Our media is also culpable as they need to do a better job of questioning politicians and holding them accountable when they misuse the truth. Contrary to what the President-elect believes, the mainstream media enabled his election by not questioning him more and reviewing his history.
The fake news sites and editorialists who have huge TV and radio followings are successful and getting their message out. They are so successful, they have no problems selling their advertising slots, which is unfortunate.
The dilemma is we are so uninformed in our country, unless an item is entertaining or ultra-provocative, too many will not take the time to listen to or read it. This is contrary to the issues and possible solutions which cannot easily be communicated in a sexy sound bite and still have veracity. They often have multiple causes that get overlooked as they are reduced to one cause and a bumper sticker solution.
So, since we cannot change the messenger and only hope we can change the patterns of the listener and reader, here is a partial solution that might help.
If a website or purported news site has an accuracy rate of less than 75%, they need to print in bold or as a banner across the screen at least once every fifteen minutes that this site is to be viewed as entertainment and not news. I think Politifacts and Factcheck.org could expand their scope to aid in this cause. In fact, I would suggest a formal audit on a quarterly basis on top of routine checking of news accuracy.
As for our editorialists who make a living revving up their followers, I think each should be required to state every fifteen minutes that what is being discussed is editorial opinion and not news. This should be required of all opinion shows, even the reputable ones. Yet, it should be made perfectly clear that what is being espoused is not fact and is clearly opinion.
Will these requirements change behavior? Maybe. The key is to prevent organizations who lie for a living from being able to identify themselves as news organizations. This would also require more reputable, but still biased sources to make sure they meet the 75% requirement. Some news organizations would have trouble meeting this requirement.
Otherwise, it will remain difficult for people to verify if a source is not newsworthy. We can do little about those who read or watch a source that verifies what they already believe. I am encouraged that subscription rates for The Washington Post and New York Times have increased. The Washington Post did some of the best reporting on the election, but was not read or repeated enough in other mainstream media.
Is this important, yes? Will this requirement help, maybe. But, we have to do something. Regardless of this action, we each must ask more of our leaders and news sources and look to more reputable sources.