Fact, Fiction, and Opinion, Issue 38

“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

Winston Churchill

Can We Tell the Difference between Fact, Fiction, and Opinion?

Are we discriminating users of information? Do we recognize that many all-news broadcasters report little fact, some fiction, but mostly they spread  opinion? Can we cut through hyperbolic newspaper coverage of events? Are we guilty of quoting  columnists’ opinions as  fact?  

And then there is the internet. Research published by Social Media Today on January 12,2021 reports that 71% of Americans consume at least part of their news input from social media. As of July 2020, 53% of Canadians acknowledged accessing news in a similar fashion.  Platforms such as Facebook, Youtube, Parler, WhatsApp, and Twitter have made everyone a journalist but without any rigour, code of ethics , or fact checking mechanisms. Social media platforms is where fiction goes to become fact.

How are we to make any sense of the flood of information and mis-information ? Not too long ago, I would have argued that the unbridled proliferation of information would be a good thing; that it would lead to a broader understanding and tolerance of different perspectives. However, people have a natural tendency to tune in to news sources that reflect their  own views and associate with like-minded people on social media. This has resulted in deep political polarization and in extreme cases, radicalization and violence.  

Separating Fact, Fiction, and Opinion

Well, we can’t go backwards! The flood of information and mis-information, facts and alternate facts will continue. So we can:

  • Make an effort to listen to another perspective.
  • Try to build constructive relationships and friendships with people who do not see the world the way we do. 
  • Remember that editorialists, columnists, and op-ed writers are expressing opinions, not fact or gospel. If we like reading Rex Murphy, we need to find a columnist with a completely opposite viewpoint. 
  • Think about who is speaking or writing . Does the record ever change? Do they occasionally suspend belief? Are they consistent? 
  • Read highly rated journalism brands. Forbes rates the top two sources of “fact” in the US as the New York Times on the left  and the Wall Street Journal on the right. The BBC gets top marks of all the news broadcasters available to a US viewing audience. The Economist is the top rated magazine. 
  • Stop listening to talk radio and wallowing in our own beliefs
  • Remember that even highly respected think-tanks almost always have a bias. Compare a report from the Fraser Institute with one from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on a similar topic. The facts will often be the same but will be twisted to support a different conclusion. 
  • Use the CRAAP Test 
  • Get off social media platforms and read a book or a magazine that takes us out of comfort zone. 

Reliable News Sources

The Toronto Star and New York Times may lean left.  The National Post and the Wall Street Journal  may lean right. However,  they use the same facts. These publications put the opinion pieces on the opinion pages .  The “legitimate press” may not get the all the facts right all the time but they try.  Many will remember an occasion when a broadcaster or a newspaper has the facts wrong! We remember, because the news source itself apologizes and corrects its mistakes. 

I am sorry if you feel that I am preaching. There will always be people on the fringes of any issue or political situation. Those fringes seem to be eating into the whole cloth and polarity is becoming more dangerous. 

My newsletters contain factual information that can verified by clicking on highlighted links. I try to avoid fiction. Almost everything that I write is opinion.

“Truth is incontrovertible. Panic may resent it. Ignorance may deride it. Malice may distort it. But there it is.”  

Winston Churchill

The usual reminders: 

  • Buy better, buy less, reduce, repair, reuse and recycle 
  • Shop local, support local businesses, buy from local farms, and support local artisans and manufacturers
  • Wear face masks where required, wash your hands, practice social distancing, hydrate, and exercise
  • Cancel Facebook and Instagram!

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