How Informed Are You?

If you are a news junkie like me, you tend to think you know the issues. But I know this is not true. Because for many of the news stories I read, I know I am only getting a sliver of the truth.To really understand any issue takes time.

In college I read hundreds of books on military history, politics and government policy and I thought I had a basic understanding of how U.S government policy worked but I quickly realized I did not know much when I entered the Marine Corps. It was there that my true formal education began on how international affairs functioned.

I spent four years on active duty as a Marine Corps Officer and most of that time was spent in the middle east. It was there working hand and  hand with our allies did I truly begin to understand how things operated. I noticed a  huge disconnect between what I saw and read in the media an what actually took place on the ground. What I discovered to be true was that the media had a story line, a narrative to write- and looked for things to fit that story wether it was true or not.

In one particular instance, our units were in Kuwait and a reporter wanted access to one of the units in the battalion. The reporter tried to bully the Marines to get what she wanted but was stopped by one of the company commanders. He called her a lying and deceitful journalist and she slinked away not to get her story. I later found out that the company commander was well aware of her news reports and her many fabrications and he would not allow her access as he felt she would just lie about what she saw.

Later when I worked in finance, again the things I saw and lived were quite different than the way things were reported. This was most apparent during the banking crisis in 2008 when the banks were taken to task for the risks they took and the abhorrent mismanagement of their institutions. Yet the media also failed to tell the other side of the story that the root of the housing crisis was the Community Reinvestment Act which forced banks to make loans to the poorest of communities lest they lose their banking license. Most of these loans went bad and then the government sued these banks for making these predatory loans.

Even in the online space, what you are shown is also edited. When I left Wall Street and started to work in the technology space in lead generation, I became quiet adapt at Search Engine Optimization. S.E.O as it is better known is simply optimizing the content on your site so that the search engines can find you. All of the search engines have said that they reward good content as it makes their jobs easier as it lets people find the most relevant sites. But when my sites started getting ranked on the 1st page of  Google, Bing etc, I would notice within weeks my sites would be dropped into the nethers of the net. What happened? Business plain and simple. Since my sites were being found by users, there was no need for me to advertise my sites with the search engines, so they moved me out of the top spot. The point being even in the online world, know that the search engines are not necessarily showing you the most relevant sites but rather the ones that make the most economic sense to them.

But we have entered now has truly become scary.News sites are becoming smarter and smarter at feeding you things for you to click on. And as you click on the articles, the sites learn. So the next time you go that site, they feed you more of the same. Many sites are now so customized that two people might access the same site and see totally different content. This is being done to maximize the time on site and advertising dollars. In the end I might think I am informed on an issue only to realize I am only being shown only a small subset of the content.

Part of the great divide over Trumps presidency is just the sheer unbelief by many that he got elected. For them, all of their friends, news stories and cable shows all said it was impossible for him to win. In their world they were right. They could not believe it because they could not see it. They did not see the other news sites showing how well Trump was doing and the real possibility of him winning.

This is the real danger of the digital age, the continued  segmenting of audiences to maximize revenue. But what is being lost is the truth and a common ground that we can all relate to.

 

Steve

sleeclark@gmail.com