How junk news slashes our productivity
Your attention on any given day is a limited commodity. So when you read and think about news stories that later turn out to be total junk with little or no basis in fact, your personal productivity — and by extension the productivity of the human race — takes a hit.
That might sound dramatic, but it’s true. BuzzFeed sums up the problem
by highlighting the utterly false story of a Dutch teenager who elected to be euthanised. The truth was nowhere near so controversial, but that didn’t stop popular outlets including The Daily Beast, The Sun, the Daily Mail, Unilad, and the Independent publishing stories about it. Heck, even the Pope subtweeted the story with a comment on the topic of euthanasia.
As the New Statesman points out
, publishers are increasingly happy to pull stories from social media with no further fact checking. Even the Times, still one of the UK’s most respected newspapers, ran a false story about a student being censured by their university for criticising Islamic State, based entirely on that student’s own social media posts.
The collapsing advertising market is of course responsible for publishers feeling they have to produce ever more content with significantly reduced resources. But the result isn’t just reduced quality of output, or even less trust in the media. It’s also the fact our heads get filled with tripe. Even if you don’t read one of these stories yourself, you might end up seeing it discussed on a TV show, or hear it discussed on a radio phone-in that pulls its topics from the day’s news with little or no further fact-checking.
As a result, we end up spending time thinking about things that aren’t true, wasting time and resources on rubbish that skews our view of reality and wastes our time.
Short of shutting down all publishers that don’t have a business model that allows them to report on things properly, I’m not sure how we navigate this mess. But reporters not taking social media at face value would be a good start.
After all, we live in an age when even the US president regularly spews unreliable nonsense on social media. So why we think we should trust accounts run by unheard-of individuals with a fraction of the followers, I have no idea.