Bias, Propaganda & Media

[Image description: a pile of newspapers]

I avoid tabloids, I find them boring and most often inaccurate about political issues. When I choose to read the news, which I often do in spite of how much it upsets me, I choose to read news that focuses on more serious matters. To be clear, if you read tabloids, I have no issue with that, everyone is different and I have just personally chosen not to.

I prefer my sources to be as unbiased as possible, something that almost never happens due to human nature. That goes for bias in favour of my side just as much as against it. The echo chamber is less stressful, but I prefer a more rounded view.

Right now, I imagine if you are one of the people who followed me on twitter during the 2014 independence referendum, you might be putting on your angry comment hat, ready to inform me of BBC bias and why The National is the only good news source out there. Save your breath, because eighteen-year-old me might have joined you. I know all your arguments off by heart.

I don’t believe there is such a thing as a properly neutral news source. News is written by humans, and all humans have bias, no matter how unconscious, and no matter how much they try and fight it. That’s the nature of humanity, and fair enough. So, I believe it is important to seek out news from various sources to counter this, both ones you agree with and ones you do not.

I mean within reason, of course. I don’t advocate going online to seek out far-right propaganda sites or other extremist material. I mean the moderate ‘other side’, not the extremes. I don’t limit my reading exclusively to articles written by verified pro-independence, pro-EU individuals.

Most of the material out there is propaganda, for one side or the other. Such is the way of life, the internet and democracy. Which is why I don’t like to limit my reading to only that which confirms my own beliefs. If ‘my side’ does something wrong, I want to be aware. I don’t want to be the kind of person who believes those I agree with are infallible.

This is especially the case following recent events. Everyone in Scotland has seen the mountain of conspiracy theories put out there by everyone. I will not comment on the situation that started this. It is not my place; this endless discussion is harming abuse survivors and I do not feel comfortable participating in it myself.

Especially about issues such as this, however, I urge people, do not just accept what your friends say. Think critically about everything, it is the only way democracy can remain healthy.

Social Media – Beneficial or Harmful?

Social media has had a lot of benefits for people, particularly in the autistic community. It is a way to talk to others and gain support without having to navigate the sensory hell that is our society. The neurodiversity paradigm has spread through social media, and many have become more aware of autism rights issues and more supportive.

For me, all this is true. But social media is also the home of trolls, cyber-bullies and those who engage in techniques such as gaslighting. Some hide behind the cloak of anonymity to spread hate and hurt others. And in my personal case, the negatives outweigh the positives.

The way companies try to manipulate others’ opinions on social media concerns and frightens me. The targeted advertisements are often creepy, seeming far too closely related to recent searches. And Cambridge Analytica is not the only company using our personal data to be manipulative – expect more scandals soon.

The humans are no better – spreading all their false information and contradictory stories. Everyone has an opinion, and all those who disagree are wrong. People often go to extremes with little regard for considering facts. For example, many people will either say Russia is the source of all evil or that Russia is the best and just unfairly demonised.

In 2012, a social media argument completely broke my heart, and it took years for me to fully get over that. 366 days ago, I lost most of my friends due to something that began on social media. It is the reason I am on antidepressants, and I am far from over it even a year later.

For all the good social media can do, it has done me far more harm. One of my favourite way to relax is to lie on my bed alone and spend hours imagining what my life would be like in an alternate timeline with one difference. Many of these timelines involve me quitting, or never using, social media.

If I had never used social media, the 2012 stuff wouldn’t have happened. Last year, things wouldn’t have fallen apart (if they ever began). I probably wouldn’t have ever had a group of close friends. Then again, I wouldn’t have felt the heartbreak over losing them. Whoever said it’s better to have loved and lost clearly had a very different personality to me.

At the moment, I do not have the choice to delete Facebook as so many have – I am on committees that use it as the primary communication method, and hence will not be able to get rid of it until July 6th at the earliest. On the 7th of July, I sincerely hope I will be able to wave goodbye to a platform that has harmed me.

Of course, for some people, social media is a lifeline. It can be fantastic, and it’s certainly not inherently bad. Certain companies have terrible policies, of course, but for some this does not outweigh the good. But for me, I can’t wait to get away.