The Importance of Vetting Our Sources of Information

The goal of every global citizen is to become as well-versed in as many topics as possible, a difficult task before one even takes into account the countless news sources one can receive their information from, and the fact that a great deal of this information is altered to serve an agenda.

Some books, such as Linda Polman’s “Caravan Crisis” or Kenneth Cain’s “Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures,” are given slightly more credibility, since their stories told are from a “boots on the ground” perspective, and backed by statistics from reputable and independent sources. But even information like this must be viewed critically, because these authors are very clearly trying to send a message about humanitarian aid, and persuade the reader to feel a certain way, through the presentation of selective evidence that helps prove their point.

So how are we to trust mainstream news sources, if even firsthand accounts can be altered in such a way that they invoke a desired reaction?

The first step that we must take if we want to become well informed global citizens, it to try and hear the same story from as many different perspectives as possible. There is an old African proverb that roughly translates to, “Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”

There are always multiple ways to look at a news story, and there are always different ways to place a spin on it. Only by comparing all sides and angles can we have any hope of sifting through it and determining what really happened.

There have been instances in this course where I have doubted the truth of some of the incidents described, for example the allegations of abuse at the hands of Red Cross workers. I didn’t believe that these incidents could possibly have been as bad as Polman described them to be. She at one point says that she has, “Known aid workers who cared for child soldiers and war orphans by day, and relaxed by night in the arms of child prostitutes.” (Polman)

I did some further research and discovered that the truth was actually even more disturbing than she had described. I read a report titled “No One to Turn To” which details instances where aid workers withheld food and medical supplies from underage girls until sexual acts were performed in exchange. (Save The Children) My skepticism in this instance led me to learn even more about the atrocious treatment of victim populations than I had upon my first reading.

I had to find a U.K. report by Save the Children before I was satisfied that the allegations against Red Cross workers were true. This meant going outside of the usual news sources I turned to for my information, and I ended up discovering something that I had never seen reported to that extent by U.S. media sources.

Most people have a certain cultural predisposition that makes them more inclined to watch news from their own country. Americans have a tendency to read and watch American news, this isn’t particularly surprising, as the news tends to focus on issues at home, but it offers a very narrow and limited scope of what news is selected to be reported. Rather than watching and reading news from networks like the BBC or Al-Jazeera that offer a more unbiased, and often very different perspective than that of U.S.-based media sources, we tend to stick with what we know.

News sources like Al-Jazeera often offer unbiased and different perspectives on issues than U.S. media does. It is important that we turn to news sources that challenge our views and cause us to grow as better informed global citizens

News sources like Al-Jazeera often offer broader and more varying perspectives than U.S. media, and that can help to give us a fuller picture of world issues. It is important that we turn to news sources that challenge our views and cause us to grow as better informed global citizens.

However, focusing only on American media prevents viewers from seeing the full scale of world events, and keeps them from being able to understand the interconnectivity of global news. Events are seen as isolated incidents, instead of part of a greater conflict, or global issue.

Going beyond this cultural predisposition, there are also political and ideological predispositions that affect our perceptions of media. Whether news is skewed liberally or conservatively (and nearly all of it is skewed in one direction or the other) we are predisposed to watch news that supports our own theories and beliefs. In psychology this idea is known as “confirmation bias,” which is the tendency to favor information that confirms preconceptions.  (Plous)

Rather than watch news that challenges our political or religious beliefs, we instead tend to selectively absorb information from sources that support our preconceived notions. If we hope to become truly informed global citizens however, we must avoid the trappings of simply watching and reading what confirms what we hold to be true, and instead challenge ourselves to try and see things from a different perspective. Only by doing this can we hope to gain a fuller understanding of world affairs, and trust that what we know, is indeed fact.

Works Cited:

Plous, Scott. The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making. 1993. McGraw-Hill

Csaky, Corinna. “No One to Turn To” Save the Children U.K. http://www.un.org/en/pseataskforce/docs/no_one_to_turn_under_reporting_of_child_sea_by_aid_workers.pdf

Polman, Linda. “The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid.” August 2011. Print.

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