In Chapter 5, processes and implications of the truly global nature of superconnectedness take center stage. It becomes apparent early in the chapter that inequalities within and between large-scale societies are a very big part of the picture. Social stratification and inequality, cultural divides, and the problems of discrimination, war (including cyberwarfare), and hacking are all discussed in this chapter. Some impacts of global digital activity are also presented, including the formation and spread of social movements and activism via social media, and the rise of citizen journalism, which has also influenced the growing problem and awareness of “fake news.”
Digital technology has made it easy to create websites and stories which have the appearance of credibility but contain fiction, not fact (i.e. “fake news”, though some use that term simply to refer to news with which they disagree.) The use of social media has it made it easy to create and spread information and disinformation. Most anyone can now post content that may be seen as the “news of the day,” not just trained journalists. News and information are now frequently spread by what are being called “citizen journalists, ” who perform some of the tasks that journalists have traditionally done, but without their training.
Citizen journalism can also provide a voice for people in societies in which the mass media are not independent of the state or where freedom of the press is limited. In such areas, citizens have special motivation to use social media to share and stay abreast of the news. In China, for example, where the media are state-controlled, mobile telephony is the least regulated media space, and provides an opportunity for citizens to become informed about, and inform one another about, current events, often using social media .
Non-journalists have most likely not been trained, either in schools or in professional situations, in professional journalistic techniques. They are not, for example. required to obtain multiple credible sources verifying the accuracy of an item before publishing it, and they may not be concerned about the ills of plagiarism. They may not verify the veracity of facts. Professional news organizations have such standards. They are incorrect sometimes, too – they may be in a hurry to be fast (or first) telling a story, relying on sources that may be wrong or absent, or more interested in the attention-getting (and financially lucrative) aspects of the story than the facts. But information provided by professional journalists and news organizations is generally considered to have the edge in accuracy and believability as compared to citizen journalists or bloggers.
Not always, though. The competition for an audience among newsmakers sometimes results in the making of critical errors that soil, if not denigrate, the product itself, which is, to a large extent, the facts – the truth. News outlets may end up getting the facts wrong in a desperate desire to be first with the story. The product then becomes not only the information being conveyed but the reputation of the news outlet itself. A decline in a news organization’s reputation for fairness and accuracy, and perhaps in news broadcasting in general, can benefit the smaller-scale citizen journalist, who can appear to the general public as just as, if not more, trustworthy.
In their crowdsourced coverage of an event, citizen journalists can make unique and important contributions to a story, and can help amplify the voices of those without power or a free press. But the rise and spread of fake news requires all of us to evaluate the credibility of what we read and see on almost a continual basis. One of the best ways to do this is to do a quick check verifying the source of the information you see. Who produced it? What are their credentials? Look for a longstanding media institution with a strong journalistic history, an academic or well-known research institution, or individuals with some experience on the topic, when possible, and keep your antenna up to detect, and treat appropriately, bias in its many forms.