Paul Cockayne – 07791 970406 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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The phrase “Fake News” is much in use at the moment, and it set me thinking about how we interpret the news we receive.
Some news is patently fake, of course, like the Sunday Sport’s famous “World War 2 Bomber Found On Moon” headline. But no news outlets, whether newspapers, TV or the internet are wholly reliable. To start with, things are left out – can any story ever include all the facts, all the background, the complete context? Stories are “spun” a particular way, certain points are emphasized, so that however hard any particular media outlet tries to present a balanced view, the particular prejudices of the journalists or editorial staff will influence what we are presented with. There is always another side (or many other sides) to every story.
But perhaps our own prejudices are more significant than those of the press. I think that most of us are attracted to news that reflects our own point of view. Our choice of newspaper, TV station or internet site will be influenced by our existing view of the world. A news item that challenges our views will most likely make us uncomfortable or angry whereas something that reinforces our views will seem much more comfortable. We will naturally prefer to read the news that makes us comfortable. Very few people will have the time or energy to read everything written on a particular topic in an effort to develop a completely balanced view.
So I think we gravitate towards interpretations of events that leave us feeling comfortable, and just as we do this with world news, so too do we do it in our personal lives.
Everything that happens to us is interpreted in some way. Our experiences exist only in their relationship to us. Our memories do not record events in an unbiased way – the things that happen are mixed with our reaction too them. The things we best remember, I think, are the things that have an emotional effect on us – the things that matter to us in some way. So sometimes others will remember things that we cannot recall at all. This doesn’t mean that they are delivering “fake news” but that their memories are different to ours.
As well as our memories being selective, our interpretation of the memories we have, and the events we experience, is biased. We will tend to read the newspaper that best reinforces our existing viewpoints, and similarly we will also interpret events in a way that reinforces our current view of the world. For example, a few years ago I worked with a couple, let’s call them Bob and Anne. Bob used to drink heavily and would sometimes get very angry and occasionally violent after drinking too much. He had managed to give up drinking for a few months and, slowly, the relationship was improving, Anne’s trust was returning, Bob was finding it easier. But one day Anne heard the dreaded sound of a can of lager being opened in the kitchen. She flew off the handle, telling Bob how stupid and useless he was and stormed into the kitchen, all guns blazing. She was met by the sight of a rather shocked Bob standing with a can of Coke in his hand.
We can easily create “fake news” by making assumptions or incorrect interpretations. So before leaping to the conclusion that there’s a bomber on the moon, it’s worth stopping and thinking. It might just be a can of Coke.