Bias on the news and the Internet – what is the impact on society?

There is a funny phrase that has become fairly common in American society that states, “They can’t put anything on the Internet that isn’t true. Who told me? The Internet.”

Since the year 2000, there was a 566.4% increase in Internet usage. That equates into roughly 2.4 billion users from all over the world, with eight new users every second. Next to that, there are roughly 1.4 billion users on Facebook worldwide and not all are individuals. Some are large corporations, news outlets, religious organizations, and so on and so forth. That is 11% of the world’s population and that is just Facebook alone.

The amount of information we receive daily from our Facebook feeds, Twitter tweets, and Pintrest pins is truly amazing. With access to the Internet anyone can broadcast their views and beliefs and anyone can project their version of a national news story. So how do we see through all that distraction? With so many competing views, the central message becomes convoluted. For example, Fox News and CNN compete daily to provide their own, ‘fair and balanced news’ to the hungry masses. It is no longer as easy as reading the Wall Street Journal or watching your local news channel after dinner.

For the common reader the question becomes, “how do we know which news source to believe?” Everyone wants to get his or her own message across, and what this becomes, is not an easy question to answer. This is because what Fox news reporters might say may differ heavily (and it usually does) from the content-based website of Reddit. Our favorite source-gathering site Wikipedia, on the other hand, hosts over 17 million different articles, which are modified by users to anyone curious enough to dive in. Even our favorite search engine Google offers daily news, albeit gathered from multiple news sources.

Biased opinions on the news and Internet do an excellent job of creating argumentative ‘sides’.  Everyone has a right of speech here in America and everyone has the right to broadcast his or her views. Anybody can log onto CNN and strictly follow the flow of news that is being ejected at an alarming rate. Your choice of what you view and post on the Internet is strictly yours.

Let’s look at the most recent and controversial government shutdown as a textbook example. A highly conservative based news outlet such as Fox News will explain that this stalemate lies with Obama and his liberal agenda. Fox would exemplify Republicans as the ‘white knights’ of congress fighting to uphold democracy. While Reddit, a mostly liberal user-posted-content website, takes a different stance. Broadcasting the opposite, claiming that the actions of the Republicans are destroying what America was founded on. Of course it is all much more complicated that that, but the differences are there. We take this information from all sources and post them publically to our friends, family, and coworkers. The results we find are typically Internet arguments, which in turn become pointless shouting matches over why/why not Obama should be impeached.

It still goes deeper than that. Americans have a pretty good understanding that a lot of the news we ingest is biased in some way, shape, or form. As stated in an article from the University of Michigan’s The Medium, “On the Internet, there is little control over what gets published” (umich.edu). On the Internet there is no limitations to time or space so, we can find well-written and polished articles there. These provide so much more information than a 30-minute wrap-up with a few sound bytes. On the Internet we get the ‘full story’ or so we are led to believe. Hidden in the text, between the lines, we can find agendas and propaganda; and I don’t say that in a bad way. It is a brilliant tactic that the Internet provides for reporters who can write a clean and refined story and still ambiguously pepper it with anti-liberal ideals. As viewers it is important for us to understand the news we are reading, where it is coming from, and the purpose it is trying to achieve.

So how do we detect this bias? Well simply put, the same way we would check the bias of any other news source. We analyze the sources of the article. We should check if the sources are two competing views or if they are strong-sided. Diversity is key in an unbiased article. The article must exhibit both sides of an argument. Watch out for double standards by researching opposing views or different examples of a situation. Loaded language is huge in reporting; the difference between the words devastated and damaged can carry a different weight. Biased articles are easy to spot once you know where and how to look into them.

News on the Internet has a huge societal impact on us. People who share our views and beliefs no longer surround us; in its place, we can now make two clicks and find an atheist’s argument for morality or a conservative case against abortion, and the world becomes ever more interconnected. The question for the individual experiencing this plethora of information is not, “How do I avoid all this information?” but instead, “How do I construct a viable view from all that is offered to me?” The information is ours for the taking, but we must decide on how to utilize it.

The Internet is possibly the greatest resource we have. Two clicks with the mouse, a keystroke, and we can find almost anything we can imagine. The Internet has a dizzying amount of content and has enhanced the way we digest news. We can find a story that provides good insight into LGBT rights, then turn around with a Google search and find its counterargument. Even still it does not stop there, we can then log onto one of the hundreds of social media networks and find our friends, family, and coworkers and view their opinions and their friend’s counter-opinions and so on and so forth into the opaque vastness of the World Wide Web. The possibilities are endless.

Works Cited:

http://www.statisticbrain.com/social-networking-statistics/

http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

http://www.umich.edu/~newsbias/medium.html

http://fair.org/take-action-now/media-activism-kit/how-to-detect-bias-in-news-media/

2 Comments

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