Being a news consumer in 2018 is hard work.
Although to be fair, it’s always been hard work. Mistakes, bias, false narratives and lies have always been part of the news. It’s never been easy for news consumers to distinguish between what’s real and what’s not.
The difference, as social and distributed media have grown in the last decade, is that it’s easy to find content and distribute it to your circle of influence without thought or consideration as to whether what you’re posting is right, wrong or somewhere in between.
And when that narrative aligns to your personal worldview, you want to be the first in your circle to get that hot take out there. You get that post/tweet/like/share/snap out there as quickly as possible.
It’s cathartic to see those reactions pile up and know that you’re right and all of your friends agree with you.
And thanks to the magic of algorithms you’re constantly shown a similar worldview, reinforcing your belief.
You are the king of your own world and you can never be wrong.
Isn’t this why we all love social media?
The problem is that so many of these hot takes end up being wrong. Which, unless you’re someone with zero self-awareness, is an embarrassing place to be.
But no matter how careful, woke, or self-aware we think we are, we’ve all shared something that was wrong.
Over the past several weeks two news stories have me thinking about the bubbles I’ve built for myself. The first was the uproar over comments Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi made while being interviewed on the Freakonomics podcast.
The interview was part of a larger series about CEOs in America – I listened to each episode as they were released.
The conversation her and host Stephen Dubner were having was around data. I remember hearing Noovi’s comments, but because of the context of the conversation, they didn’t strike me as anything for that a few data points.
Noovi talked about data collected by Pepsico researchers that found women don’t like to crunch too loudly in public, don’t like to lick their fingers, don’t pour broken pieces of chips into their mouths, and want snacks that fit into their purse.
I never gave it another thought until a day or two later. While listening to another (comedy) podcast, The Daily Zeitgeist, they started discussing how the CEO of Pepsico said that the company was working on Lady Doritos. This struck me because having listened to the interview, I didn’t remember saying this, but did remember the data points.
The other thing that struck me was the host who referenced the story kept referring to the CEO as a male. He later corrected himself, but IMHO that’s a lazy mistake.
Another example from this same story is from the New York Daily News. Here is the headline they used for the story:
Pepsi CEO: Women want ‘lady chips’ that don’t ‘crunch too loudly’
The headline makes it seem like the CEO used the words “lady chips.” But read the story. No place is she quoted as saying “lady chips.”
So I started thinking about the Noovi’s interview more critically. Was I missing something?
Did she suggest that the company was looking into how the data can improve its products? Yes, this is something every company does (or at least should).
Did she say they were working on ‘Lady Doritos’ or ‘Lady Chips’ as was being reported? No.
Can you assume from what she said that they were working on snacks tailored for women? It seems like it, yes. But this is something most snack companies do now.
So did Noovi’s comments deserve the criticism and uproar they received? I’m sure the people who criticized would say yes, so I would say it’s not up to me to decide.
What I do know is that it taught me a lesson.
Just because I’m aligned with someone’s overall worldview doesn’t mean they are always accurate. Before repeating what they say and what I hear, I need to do some legwork to make sure it’s accurate.
My other example is a mistake I made right after the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.
The day of the shooting I was at Universal Studios in Orlando, FL with my family. When I first learned of the shooting we were standing in line waiting to ride Escape from Gringotts.
My wife and I stood there refreshing our phones to get as much information as we could as quickly as possible. And, like so many of us, as the details came in I got angrier and angrier – and felt completely helpless.
The next day, as we continued our time in the park, shuffling from line to line, my social media feeds filled up with memes that proved my worldview about gun control and gun violence.
Normally I’m careful about the stories I share and the memes I post, especially when it comes to news and world events. Even though it’s not in an editorial department, I work in media and the last thing I want to do is spread fake news.
I always take the time to source before posting. I look for one or two sources from reputable outlets before sharing.
But like I said, I was angry and was feeling helpless. So just before jumping into the Jurassic Park ride I re-posted a meme about the number of US school shootings so far in 2018.
And hey someone said Bernie Sanders said it so it must be true, right?
Later in the day someone called me out for it. But because our political worldviews don’t align, I ignored him.
The next day a friend of mine from college posted this:
I don’t usually post on this stuff and I certainly do not want to take away from the tragedy and the seriousness of the situation. But I find this article to be very revealing and truthful. I keep hearing the term “fake news”. I think my definition may a bit different than others. Watching the news networks may be misguided or misleading news. But fake news to me are the people who post unchecked “facts” and mislead by making opinions “facts”. Celebrity tweets, your best friend’s FB post that was a repost from 3 sources ago in 2014. Yes that is fake news. That’s why we have to be diligent to do some of our own fact checking and not automatically hit the share button. The news networks aren’t always right. And neither is your neighbor from when you were 8 years old who is tweeting the sexual harassment of an old man smiling at her as he complimented her dress as he holds the door open for her. Opinions are not facts. And you are allowed your own opinion and thoughts. But get the facts straight.
Along with this link:
No, there haven’t been 18 school shootings in 2018. That number is flat wrong.
I’m not sure what her worldview is exactly, but it doesn’t matter.
She was right.
I was wrong.
And I know better. I watch friends and family members share lies day after day and just shake my head. “How can they be so stupid,” I think to myself.
Well, now I know.
Like I said, being a media consumer in 2018 is hard work.