If there’s one thing all self-proclaimed non-conformists hate (and, hate to say it, guys, but there are many) it’s the media. Rather, The Media. The Mainstream Media (or MSM, as the cool kids call it). It’s the shadowy cartel organized by your political opponents to brainwash the sleeping masses and turn the people in sheep. Or maybe lull the human-sheep hybrid creatures to sleep. Something like that.
While it’s obvious that much of the product of major media outlets is at best meaningless pablum and at worst dangerously misinformative pablum, here are at least three reasons not to worry too much about the “mainstream media.”
1. Smaller Isn’t Necessarily Better
There is no logical reason to assume that alternative media is any more honest and virtuous than the mainstream media. It’s like saying that a mom-and-pop coffee shop must have better coffee than Starbucks simply because it’s a “small” business. There’s nothing magical about size. Bad information is bad information. It should be rejected whether it comes from Rush Limbaugh or Natural News.
2. There’s No Monopoly on Information
Direct information is more accessible than it has ever been. The only thing suppressing news and hiding “the truth” is one’s own laziness. Anyone can learn what is going on in Nairobi in a matter of seconds if they are inclined to do so. The world has become more united via social media, and while the government tries to crack down on journalists and whistleblowers, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden have made their efforts to control the narrative look silly. Embrace it.
3. Correlation Is Not Causation
Confirmation bias–not brainwashing–explains why people with certain political leanings favor certain media outlets. People are less likely to be manipulated than you think. In fact, they are far more likely to strengthen their beliefs in the face of opposing information.
Fox News and Brietbart.com don’t create Republicans. MSNBC and the Huffington Post don’t create Democrats. People flock to these media sources for the very same reason that libertarians flock to LewRockwell.com and conspiracy theorists follow Infowars: because these sources confirm what their audiences already believe.
The best prescription is always skepticism: look to see if the evidence is in proportion with the claim being offered. See if the preponderance of evidence supports that conclusion, and ask whether it fits with other known facts about how the world works. If any of these raises red flags, look to see if other sources can verify the claim, and if they can, has anyone tried to disprove it.
Check out the skeptic’s baloney detection kit for more helpful hints in evaluating new information.