Darrell Berkheimer: Can we curb misinformation?
I believe the No. 1 obligation journalists have is to detail the biggest problems facing our society, and then to report on efforts to resolve them.
Quite often, writers do a good job of detailing the problems and issues. But perhaps we fall a little short in prompting enough people to work on the resolutions — rather than just repeating the problems.
I made an effort in that direction a week ago when I proposed an injunction, cease-and-desist procedure to control the methods used in the spreading of fake news, lies, falsehoods and misinformation. I reconsidered the proposal as I was typing it, and I wasn’t sure whether it’s workable, even with refinements.
It was an attempt to walk a fine line between maintaining freedom of speech and the need for government to provide security for its citizens — by minimizing all threats to that security. My objective was to stir a lot of thought toward actions we might take to control the mass media repetition of falsehoods and misinformation.
I have written numerous times in the past that journalists like myself do not have any better ideas or solutions to our biggest problems than our readers do. But it’s our job to stir the thinking pot with the hope that a new idea or different approach will yield a potential solution.
Although a few readers, in their comments, agreed with the mounting need to control misinformation, other readers wasted time and effort on criticizing the examples that I used rather than concentrating on the point of my commentary — how we might control the continuing spread of falsehoods.
That leads to my criticism of some comments that appear below the online copies of various letters and commentaries submitted by other writers and published by The Union. I think many of those comments merely show that some readers allowed themselves to get bogged down with nit-picking about side issues — subsequently neglecting the entire effort of the writer’s commentary.
That negativity does not lead to a positive result. But thank you to all for taking the time to comment.
And now let’s concentrate on what can be done to curb misinformation. Let’s ask our attorney friends to recommend some suggestions and proposals.
The importance of repressing misinformation cannot be overstated — because it is tearing apart the fabric of our American society. It’s at the root of our mounting divisiveness. It is our biggest crisis.
I came to that conclusion after reading an Aug. 10 commentary by Leonard Pitts Jr., a Pulitzer-prize-winning columnist at the Miami Herald.
Pitts recalls the reliable sources of news that we had 60 years ago when we had Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and, of course, the local newspaper.
He writes: “There was no social media. The production and distribution of information had not yet become the province of any and everybody.”
Pitts then suggests the answer is education.
“The need to teach our children well — media literacy and critical thinking, in particular — has never felt more urgent. Indeed, it is not too much to call it a matter of survival. After all, the insurrection crisis threatens our country, the COVID crisis threatens our health and the climate crisis threatens the only planet we’ve got. But the misinformation crisis either caused or exacerbated all of them.”
Pitts observes that “the obvious epitaph” we face “if we do not survive these challenges would be ignominious, but fair:
“Too stupid to live.”
Have we become that stupid? Will we deserve that epitaph?
Should the current misinformation situation be allowed to continue?
Do you think there should be consequences when some members of the mass media deliberately repeat misinformation and falsehoods that foment divisiveness and cause dangers for others?
I do. But I do not want to undermine free speech in doing so.
Can’t we curb one and maintain the other?
Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has eight books available through Amazon. His sixth, “Essays from The Golden Throne,” includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen western travel and photo essays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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