In electronic media, lying has become less serious. We seem to have a more cavalier attitude to the truth than we did a long time ago. There’s no longer a clear distinction between reality and fantasy because with social media, the distinction between news and entertainment has been so eroded, that this clear and important difference has been lost.
David Livingstone Smith, associate professor of philosophy at the University of New England in Biddeford, Me, to the New York Times. Disruptions: Twitter’s Uneasy Role in Guarding the Truth.
Last week saw a lot of handwringing over misinformation spread through social networks about the effects and responses to Sandy as the storm hit the east coast. In particular, to the @comfortablysmug Twitter feed where Shashank Tripathi posted purposefully fabricated stories that first responders needed to respond to set the record straight.
Rumor, fabrication and outright falsehood has been around since anything’s been around though. If it’s not that humans like to lie, a good portion of us do… or least tell a good yarn.
Important though is that while our social media provides an easy outlet for misinformation to go viral, it’s also a platform for crowdsourcing corrections more quickly than ever before. Or, at least, that’s the optimists view.
Pessimists can point to censorship and propaganda regimes that flood social media, message boards and other online gathering places with a consistent barrage of misinformation of their own.
Whether we are dealing with a historian or an economist, a surgeon or a reporter, we need to understand how these professionals go about their work so that they can with some confidence, put forth a proposition that they believe to be true. If we do not trouble to understand the method–say, that of a blogger versus a trained reporter, or a barber versus a board-certified surgeon–then our chances of ascertaining truth are sharply reduced.
Howard Gardner, as quoted in my reflections on last week’s Poynter Ethics Journalism Symposium.
We’ve published the reflection over at our brand-new theFJP.org, which we also launched last week.
So head on over to read: “Reflections on the #PoynterEthics Journalism Symposium from a Starry-Eyed Attendee“ -Jihii
(Starry-eyes refers to this embarrassing post.)
‘Never has it been so easy to expose an error, check a fact, crowdsource and bring technology to bear in service of verification.’
Craig Silverman, Nieman Reports. A New Age for Truth.
This is all very true and we recommend reading what he has to say.
Unfortunately, we also recommend reading Jay Rosen’s recent article, If Mitt Romney were running a “post-truth” campaign, would the political press report it?
His answer, unsurprisingly, is no, no it wouldn’t.
Thanks for writing in. You make some good points but I think you are misreading, or overreading, what Jay wrote.
He does not ask for NPR to come down on either side of the abortion debates. What he does say, and believes listeners deserve an answer to, is who has more truth on their side with this specific piece of Kansas legislation.
Listen (emphasis ours):
My complaint is not the usual one that you probably get: biased reporting. No. This is he said, she said reporting, one of the lowest forms of journalism in existence, in which the NPR reporter washes her hands of determining what is true. The new Kansas regulations may be a form of harassment, intended to make life as difficult as possible for abortion providers in that state. Or, alternatively, these rules may be sane, rational, common sense, sound policy: just normal rule-making by responsible public officials.
According to this report, NPR has no idea who is right. It cannot provide listeners with any help in sorting through such a dramatic conflict in truth claims. It knows of no way to adjudicate these clashing views. It is simply confused and helpless and the best it can do is pass on that helplessness to listeners of “Morning Edition.” Because there is just no way to know whether these new rules try to make life as difficult as possible for abortion providers, or put common sense public policy goals into practice in Kansas. There is no standard by which to judge. There is no comparison that would help. There is no act of reporting that can tell us who has more of the truth on their side. In a word, there is nothing NPR can do! And so a good professional simply passes the conflict along. Excellent: Now the listeners can be as confused as the journalists.
You are correct that journalists and journalism don’t have a priestly hold on capital “T” Truth. Nor would we want it.
But Jay’s critique isn’t about that. It’s about the truth of demonstrable ideas and policies. There’s a difference here.
I decided then that if I was to succeed in a profession that is all about truth-telling, I couldn’t tell the truth about myself.
While Steve Myers acknowledges the legitimacy of Jose Antonio Vargas’ recent decision to out himself as an illegal immigrant, he explores how a journalist withholding information affects journalism. The article asks the question, “when is truth telling worth the risk?”
For a somewhat related take, Slate’s Jack Shafer explores the honesty needed between a reporter and editor and suggests that Vargas’ deception over the years destroys that, as well as the trust needed between a news organization and its readers.
Steve Myers, Poynter. “Vargas’ revelation may be a victory for immigration advocates, but not for journalism.”