Right in the centre - Finding the truth in an electronic world


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

number of years ago, the term citizen journalism emerged. With the internet, web sites, web blogs, Google and Facebook all developing it became increasingly evident that a tidal wave of information was coming our way.

The citizen journalism concept was that “everybody” could add to the story or stories. It has happened. Everyone can add to the narrative about any topic, at any time of the day or night and from anywhere in the world. It is a good thing– sort of.

The good news is that there is a lot of information now available from anyone, anywhere and at any time. It’s also the bad news or the down side of  the previous sentence as well. We are inundated with so much information that we can’t possibly process it all. We probably shouldn’t even try. A wise man, actually one of my sons, says that we were never intended to take in all this information and carry its weight on our shoulders. He’s correct. It becomes mentally impossible. I suspect that this era’s tsunami of information is a leading cause of stress and mental illness.

It’s not that many years ago that news, both good and bad, took a long time to travel across the country or around the world. Now it’s instant and in massive quantities. During my early childhood in the 1950s, the news sources were an occasionally turned on radio (had to save the batteries you know, they cost money), a local weekly newspaper and possibly a weekly farm newspaper. By the late 1950s and into the 1960s, we had TV and an often turned on radio (Hydro was cheaper than batteries). President Kennedy’s assassination rocked the world almost instantly. When Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were killed, it was almost instantly known. Now, violent acts are shown live, bringing  an even  higher level of horror to our lives.

On a smaller news scale, everything from a person’s latest breakfast treat to their newest pet video is made available instantly and world-wide. Some people say Facebook is for old people. In our world, it’s a love-hate relationship. On one hand, it helps us stay in touch with family and friends as well as giving us news leads on local stories. On the the other hand, social media in general, and Facebook in particular, have lulled people into believing that if they put their event on social media, it’s free and effective. Well, it is free, but it may or may not be all that effective. If a person gets a couple of hundred hits on Facebook, that’s all well and good. A newspaper’s reach is in the 1,000s.

Another problem is how does one sort through all this stuff? Some of it being relevant, some irrelevant and unfortunately, in the case of many political stories, totally false and misleading.

Much of what is on Facebook or any social media is not verifiable, not accountable. The most recent dust up between Tesla’s Elon Musk and Twitter has actually done us all a favour. Musk challenged Twitter to verify what percentage of their accounts are robots, effectively fake accounts connected to no one. The robot accounts aren’t actual people viewing data or seeing the ads. Just as the name implies, they are robots. You can’t really blame Twitter, as there is no real way they can answer Musk’s challenge. They had no intention of verifying their robot count as they never needed to do so. At least not until Musk challenged them. Twitter and all other social media can be phoney as a three dollar bill.

That’s the key difference between social media and newspapers. Newspapers are generally fairly accurate. Locally owned community papers are highly accurate. If they stray from the truth intentionally or in error, the readers know who to call to set things straight. Trust me, I have been on the receiving end of those calls on a few occasions. Fortunately, it has only been a few occasions.

So, while it is good to have a wider based citizen journalism active in our laptop infatuated, phone infested world, accuracy is still of utmost importance. You can use electronic media, and we all do, but beware of believing everything you see or hear. Especially the electronic versions. People used to say “Get it in writing” and it’s still true.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being the view of the Banner & Press staff.