Filter bubbles that fragment audiences by their preferences, prejudices and ideological conceptions, along with the dissemination of unchecked information and rumors have a profound effect on the quality and prospects of continuity of our democracies. During the three months leading up to the US elections, the number of user interactions with fake news surpassed, on Facebook at least, news checked and produced by media professionals.
One of the consequences of audience fragmentation and the proliferation of false news is polarization: the accentuation of divisions in societies that lose their ability to distinguish information from opinion; to debate, to share concerns that integrate a public agenda and consolidate the bonds required by every nation and society.
During recent months, there were multiple references to “post-truth”, a term chosen by the Oxford Dictionaries as “the word of the year 2016”. This choice attempts to reflect a current phenomenon in which truth, conceived as an adaptation of a statement to reality, matters less than those postulates that respond to deep aspirations or prejudices and conceptions of reality not adequately sifted by reason. Although history offers many precedents of these type of constructions, the expansion of the Internet fertilized its ground for reproducing, in a scale without precedent, the false convictions that are installed in the social imagination.
Journalism played a central role from its beginnings and consolidated itself by providing information when news was in short supply. Today, it acquires a renewed validity in an era characterized by an indiscriminate multiplication of messages that devalue the criteria of truth. Probably, as Fernando Ruiz said in a meeting recently organized by Adepa, “fake news is good news”. The phenomenon can be a pedagogical way to highlight the role of the press.
The newsrooms of traditional media are still the main generators of information that is checked, contextualized, hierarchized and analyzed. They develop the antidote for the toxic effect of disinformation within our communities. They are the sources of the indispensable input for citizen participation that gives legitimacy to the democratic system.
Traditional media is going through a complex moment of vertiginous transformation. This threat drives many media companies to implement cuts that threaten the quality of their products, forcing them to close their operations or sell their assets to businessmen who, in many cases, subordinate their editorial lines to extra-journalistic interests or give in to the temptation of molding their offer with demagogic criteria.
The vitality and rigor of the press have a direct relationship with the possibility societies have of using the right tools to distinguish the truth from falsehoods, the accessory from the substantial, and parting from these distinctions to make the decisions that design their future. It is, therefore, an issue that should not only concern those who are part of the journalistic community. It should concern everyone who aspires to continue being a real citizen.