The News is Shaping Your Behavior…Here is What You Can do About it

Op-ed

The news is everywhere, continually surrounding humanity. What once took the form of words scattered across a blank page, is now only a click away in the world of digital media. The news can be a fantastic way to stay informed, but there are some dangers to it. As a society that currently appears more concerned with quick information than gathering facts, it is more crucial than ever to be aware of misleading news and to realize that some news media is shaping your thoughts and behaviors.

What's Wrong with The News?

Before diving into how media could be controlling you, it is essential first to understand that news content is often censored. The news that media providers show is the result of stories being carefully plucked from the thousands of happenings taking place across the world. It is up to the editors to make the ultimate decision on what is "newsworthy."

Aside from the usual guidelines that dictate what news is presented, there is also the possibility that a news source is politically biased; this leads to reports that favor their political opinions to be broadcast. It is in this way that media often becomes political and even censored to represent specific political views.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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While not all news is biased, it is still very concerning because many of the most trusted and well-known media outlets in Canada have all been accused throughout the years of presenting biased content, so it can be hard to trust any one news source fully.  

Biased news is currently a very controversial subject across the United States as well; It is said that Americans believe 62% of the stories that they are exposed to are biased, according to a survey from the Knight Foundation and Gallup. Many Americans have argued that Fox News is pro-Republican, and CNN is pro-Democrat.

As a result of following newsworthy guidelines and potentially censoring some events, many important stories are often left out. Thus, you might be unaware of pressing events that are taking place.  In response to the lack of diverse news, programs such as Project Censored have been created by independent journalists in hopes of informing the public of overlooked topics. Some of Project Censored’s top articles include “Burger King, McDonald’s Linked to Amazon Deforestation," “USDA Scientists Face Censorship on Climate Science," and “Alabama Prisoners Shackled to Lavatory Buckets.”

 In more ways than one, the act of censoring news from the widespread media is largely affecting society. According to projectcensored.org, “censorship undermines democracy. An informed public is crucial to democracy in at least two basic ways.  First, without access to relevant news and opinion, people cannot fully participate in government. Second, without media literacy, people cannot evaluate for themselves the quality or significance of the news they receive.”  In short, censoring news prevents individuals from making well-informed decisions on their own, thus resulting in a dysfunctional society.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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How Does This Effect Me as an Individual?

The extreme violence that news media exposes society to can impair your decision-making skills and lead to an error in judgment. Psychologists have recognized that people tend to expect an event to be more probable if they are exposed to many stories of similar events; This is referred to as the Availability Heuristic. A real-life example of this phenomenon occurring would be during the widely covered Ebola panic in 2014. Despite there being only 4 cases of the infamous African disease in the United States, due to the excessive media coverage of the story, a slight hysteria occurred across the U.S. and Canada. A large portion of the population believed that there was a high risk of contracting Ebola since people always heard about it on the news, thus causing the story to remain fresh in their minds.

What Can I do to stop this?

As distressing as it may be to learn that news sources can be corrupt, there are multiple actions that you can take in order to prevent falling victim to censored and biased news. One such step would be to always check to see if a news source is reputable. A source is deemed reliable when it is transparent with its audience. An example of a news source being transparent will be if they state when an article is an opinion piece rather than a fact. This is important because it gives you, the reader, an opportunity to consider what the article is stating rather than blindly accepting the contents as factual.

Another action that you should take to avoid having opinions swayed by biased media is to be open to gathering information from multiple reputable sources. It is vital to be exposed to numerous story angles, not just the ones that line up with pre-existing views.  This method ensures that an individual has read the essential aspects of a story before forming their own opinion on the matter.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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News media is something that continually bombards society with potentially biased information. From an over-representation of violence affecting your Availability Heuristic, to politically biased news outlets, it is often hard to prevent the media from dictating society’s views. Using tactics such as checking the reliability of a source and viewing multiple angles of a story can counteract the effects of a censored news culture, leading you to be a more well-rounded and informed member of society.

Works Referenced: Caulfield, Mike. “What Makes a Trustworthy News Source?” Go to the Cover Page of Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers, Self-Published, 8 Jan. 2017

Danilack, Geoff. “The Heuristic That Caused the Ebola Panic of 2014.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 6 Dec. 2014

Frost, K, et al. “Relative Risk in the News Media: a Quantification of Misrepresentation.” American Journal of Public Health, vol. 87, no. 5, 1997, pp. 842–845., doi:10.2105/ajph.87.5.842.

"News and Media." The Canada Guide

"Our Mission: Promoting Critical Media Literacy and Democracy." Project Censored

“PBS Newshour Student Reporting Labs.” PBS Newshour Student Reporting Labs

Pinker, Steven. “The Media Exaggerates Negative News. This Distortion Has Consequences | Steven Pinker.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 17 Feb. 2018

Relman, Eliza. “These Are the Most and Least Biased News Outlets in the US, According to Americans.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 2 Sept. 2018

“Validated Independent News.” Project Censored

Vanderwicken, Peter. “Why the News Is Not the Truth.” Harvard Business Review, 1 Aug. 2014

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Jenna Legge

Editor

Jenna Legge is Journalism and Law student at Carleton University, Ottawa. She has a passion for traveling, science, reading, fashion, and asking questions about the world around her.


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