These words seem to be truer these days than ever before. As we approach the election, I’m finding an increasing number of people, myself included, who are frustrated, disenchanted, frightened, and angry. We don’t know who to trust anymore.
I’m a researcher by nature, as are many of my friends and colleagues. But with this election, it seems that the more data we gather, the more confusing it gets. Every article, post, or tweet, contains misleading headlines and conflicting information. It’s enough to make our collective heads spin.
Not that this is anything new. Sensationalistic journalism has been around since the written word, but because anyone with internet access and a pulse can post “content”, it has exploded to epic proportions, and you can’t be sure what you read anymore are actually facts. It becomes so exhausting that readers ultimately resort to confirmation bias, (i.e, “OK, finally! It looks like I was right about him/her all along. Yay me”)
Coincidentally enough, my daughter started high school recently, and she’s discovering that her teachers aren’t perfect, and may actually be – GASP! – human! She finds this a refreshing change from middle school, but I can tell she’s also frustrated when she’s asks for specific direction and doesn’t get it.
Welcome to impending adulthood, sweetie. It sucks.
The realization of adulthood occurs for everyone at different stages of their lives. Sometimes it’s leaving home for school. Sometimes it’s parenthood. Sometimes it’s the death or illness of a parent. Sometimes it’s eating an entire tube of raw cookie dough for dinner (because you can!), and suffering repercussions of it later.
Whatever it is, it’s the realization that you are ultimately responsible for your life. Your parents, teachers, supervisors, as wise as they are, don’t know everything. There is no Santa or Easter Bunny. There is a mortal man behind the curtain.
So what are we supposed to believe? Where can we get clear direction? Who can we trust? A couple of ideas:
Trust Objective Sources…If You Actually Find Them
While perusing a site, ask yourself these questions:.
Who owns the site?
What are their goals?
What are REALLY their goals?
Even if a news site appears to be candidate-agnostic, their ultimate goal is to make money through advertising and clicks. They are going to generate content that attracts advertisers and readers and will do what it takes to do that, even if it’s means deceiving readers.
Unless this is your first time on the web, you’ve seen the headlines such as, “Child Stars Who Died Too Early”, and then there’s a photo of Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary from “Little House on the Prairie”) or Jonathan Taylor Thomas (from “Home Improvement” and covers of countless teen magazines in the 90s). You click on the link because you remember those stars from your childhood, and you think, “How sad! I didn’t know they died. I wonder what happened?”
So you click through a zillion pages of stories about obscure child stars that fell through the cracks and died. Those pages are loaded with ads and other confusing buttons that lead to ads. But there’s no mention of Anderson or Thomas’s demise because they are both alive and well. The original link didn’t actually say they died. They lead you to believe that so you would click. And you did. Sucker.
So you think, “I can’t trust what people say/write. At least I can trust numbers.” In theory, this is true. Again, check where those numbers are coming from and how they’re cooked.
Trust Each Other
Most of us who have spent any amount of time on social media – especially Facebook – have experienced this: There’s an intriguing headline like “This Man Did Something So Jaw-Dropping” (web writers LUUUUUV the phrase, “jaw-dropping”.). So you’re dumb enough to click on the link. There’s a picture of a man, and a sentence.
“John woke up one Sunday morning.” Click Next
“He ate his breakfast,” Click Next
“He drank his coffee.” Click Next.
Now you think, “Am I reading a children’s book? Get to the jaw-dropper for freaks sake!”
Here’s a handy trick: Jump straight to the comments. Most likely, one of your fellow social mediaites will come to your rescue with a TL;DR (Too Long, Didn’t Read) version of the story: The guy rescued a puppy. That person just saved you 10 minutes of your life you would have never gotten back.
The moral of the story is that we should learn to trust each other. The conversations you will have with individuals will be infinitely more interesting and impactful than anything you will read.
But most of all, no matter what happens with the election, no matter what your personal opinions or beliefs are, to quote another ‘80s teen movie, “Be excellent to each other.”