Most of us use at least one of them, even if we harbor uneasiness about their power. We log on to Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the other digital helpers. We connect with friends and families, carry out research, express our opinions, and follow the latest breaking news.
Thomas Friedman, columnist for The New York Times, acknowledged the good things digital media helps us accomplish. At the same time, he warns, it’s easier to abuse them because no one is judging their output for accuracy. (The Seattle Times, “Hold social media accountable,” October 12, 2017.)
The business model of the digital media, Friedman writes, aimed “to absorb all of the readers of the mainstream media newspapers and magazines and to absorb all their advertisers—but as few of their editors as possible.”
Some enjoy the freewheeling ride of social media. Some don’t like editors who tell them they can’t write certain things—demeaning those different from themselves or spreading false stories.
As Friedman reminds us, “An editor is a human being you have to pay to bring editorial judgement to content on your website, to make sure things are accurate and to correct them if they’re not. Social networks preferred to use algorithms instead, but these are easily gamed.”
Social media has connected us with different viewpoints and given us freedom to explore. They’ve also given us greater ability to spread untruths. Fake news was not invented in the digital era, but it spread its wings there.
To cope requires what is so often lacking in these times: self-discipline. Self-discipline curtails our temptation to treat news as entertainment, an attitude tailor-made for social media. Instead, if we are wise, we will exchange some of that time for reading hard news and analysis, gathered by journalists who are paid to investigate and kept to strict standards of what is true.