Thursday, November 17, 2016

You're being manipulated!

Wow! Time flies, doesn't it? I haven't written in a while because of various reasons, but I thought it's about time I wrote something. In fact, I need to get this off my chest.

I want to attract your attention to the ways we consume news and information these days. A lot of us rely heavily on various media outlets and especially social media to get there daily fix of news and information. In this day and age, information is available to us like never before. We are surrounded by it. From news items to advertisements, from your Facebook feeds to Twitter timelines, information is everywhere. Information is literally on our fingertips now. In fact, one can even claim that this generation should be the most informed people on this planet. But are we? Are we as informed as we think we are?

We call this the information age, and it is pretty apt because we have unprecedented access to information. But somewhere, this information bubble around us is not as informative as we think it is. It is more manipulative than ever before. Reporting is no longer as unbiased as we want it to be. I'll take the example of a recent report published in DNA. Below is what they posted:

There is an explanation to what AUCA or 'a write-off' is and how it works. But just pay attention to the headlines. I would urge you to read the actual article which can be found here:

Our next exhibit is this news item reported by The Indian Express. You can see it below:

It also says, and I quote, the following in this article:

"Mallya, who has been declared by ED as a proclaimed offender, has left the country after banks moved the Supreme Court to seize his assets. Kingfisher Airline owes a total of Rs 6,963 to 17 banks. In February, The Indian Express first reported that Twenty-nine state-owned banks wrote off a total of Rs 1.14 lakh crore of bad debts between financial years 2013 and 2015. SBI topped the list by writing of bad debts worth Rs 40,084 crore in the last three financial years.  The Supreme Court, taking suo motu cognizance of The Indian Express report, called the write off “a big fraud” and ordered the RBI to share with it names of the biggest defaulters. On Tuesday, the Parliamentary consultative committee, constituted to study non-performing assets (NPAs) in the banking sector, has suggested that the government should name all the defaulters whose loans have been written off by state-owned banks."

Again, you can read the whole article here:

You can see the articles differ in content and overall information presented. But this is not where it ends. Below is how this news showed up on my Facebook feed:

Do you see it? Do you see how the actual news is no longer relevant? And before anyone starts calling out on anything, my point is exactly that: we love news and information that matches our biases. And as the news and information become more targeted, we are prone to such biases even more. This misinformation, paid content and sensationalist mindset of media has incorporated a distrust so deep that we no longer believe what doesn't fit our ideology. With content more readily available, and everyone competing in this market, headlines are becoming more and more click-baity. There's almost no way of finding the truth in this cloud of misinformation. But how did we reach here?

We, the people, are to blame for this. We love the sensationalized news. We love thrills. We love the news/information that fits our biases. We love the conspiracy theories which fit our narrative. We consume what we like and our media outlets know that. They have to cater to their market. We as market has made news entertainment. Truth and fact-checking is not on the top of our list. In fact, it is nowhere on our list. We've come to a point where either you're with us or against us. There's no middle ground. We want to see the world in black and white which it is not. It's a problem. It's a huge problem. 

Media holds immense power to sway people and opinions. It's a good thing. The problem is the media knows it. And now it has taken to a whole new level. They love spreading negativity. It brings readers. It brings money. What about us though? What does it bring us? Does it bring truth? Does it show the real picture? We have reached a point where we are the most misinformed generation. We as people have to stop this. We need to become more observant. We need to seek the truth. We need to realize: there's a black, there's a white, and the truth lies somewhere in the middle. All it needs is finding.