In my article from two weeks ago I discussed how the internet is threatening the supremacy of corporate media, particularly broadcast media, along with how this is forever altering the way we do politics. But the halcyon days of net neutrality are already over. There are ways in which large corporations are manipulating the internet to their advantage.
The process of media convergence is resulting in a small handful of very large companies being able to control not only what you can watch or read, but your internet access and your phone and cell phone services as well. Not only that; they are learning how to manipulate search engine results, public perceptions, and social media to their advantage. Only by being aware of these tactics, and in some cases fighting their lobbyists in the political and legal arenas, can we hope to maintain this precious resource.
Let’s point out some of the problems and discuss solutions:
Problem: Favouritism in search engines
Search engines list the most frequented sites on a given topic first. In these situations, corporate media still has the advantage because they still have a reputation that encourages a lot of people to go to them first. Most of us glance at the first five or six listings (because the human brain can only count five objects at once in a glance) and then choose the one we like the sound of best. If we’re really literate or really interested maybe we read two or three.
Solution: Make sure you skim down the rest of the page, maybe a couple of pages, and try to read at least one differing opinion from your own with an open mind. And never forget that Google is a large corporation.
Problem: News aggregates
Most of us get our internet news from aggregates such as Huffington Post. They use software that selects the most popular articles from the most-visited sources. As a result, they give you the same information that the first six links on Google give you; and they have their biases as well.
Solution: Same as above. Try to find an opposing viewpoint to the one your favourite news aggregate offers you.
Problem: Information overload
Because there’s so much information out there we often don’t spend the time we should to use our discernment. Furthermore, knowing this, media outlets, corporations and political parties flood the internet with articles and links that support their bias, which makes it look as though their bias is the most prevalent opinion. The more money available to a given group, the better they are at this.
Solution: Don’t fall for it. Even if the opinion in question is the prevailing one, that doesn’t make it the “correct” opinion anyway. Double check the data and decide for yourself.
Problem: Expert opinions
Groups with political motivations will try to lend their viewpoint legitimacy by enlisting experts to support that viewpoint. But money talks even among “experts,” as anyone who has ever been through a civil lawsuit could tell you.
Solution: Consider the source. A scientist working for Exxon is not going to support the climate change data. An avowed atheist is going to ignore any information that supports divine powers. Pharmaceutical companies are going to discredit any medicinal source that they can’t manufacture and patent. Economists of the Koch Brothers sponsored Fraser Institute are not going to support economic models that don’t benefit the Koch brothers and their ilk.
Problem: Misleading and clickbait headlines
Most of us don’t read whole articles. We read the headlines and then skim the text. As a result we acquire an oversimplified version of the facts, and we miss subtle caveats or even contradictory information contained in the rest of the article. Journalists writing to the direction of company heads with particular political viewpoints sometimes know this and use it to deliberately downplay facts that contradict those viewpoints, while at the same time claiming a lack of bias because their articles do contain those facts; they’re just written in the internet equivalent of small print at the end.
Solution: If you’re going to read an article, read all of it before casting judgment.
Problem: Siloing and polarization
Because there are so many choices available to us in internet media we often only read the information that supports our pre-existing viewpoints, rather than trying to get a whole picture. As a result we often find ourselves in echo chambers that gradually lose touch with the big picture. Also, journalists supporting a bias often deliberately write articles to encourage us to divide into camps without considering individual issues and situations.
Solution: Again, read contradictory articles. Or find an online friend who supports political views that you don’t that you can have a respectful debate with.