By Jason Menard
The number of TV stations, Web sites, publications, and social networking sites, can not just sate those who have a thirst for politics – it can overwhelm them. So the question now becomes, how do you filter this firehose-like deluge of information and make the best choice for you?
The Ontario provincial election is less than a month away and while it may seem that we’ve been inundated with campaign rhetoric and information, the fact is that the writ was just dropped and the campaign only officially began yesterday.
We’re used to the traditional media jumping all over this type of event – it’s what they live for. But now so-called amateurs are getting involved in the game and having as much, if not more, influence over some of the voters.
I remember back in my days at The Gazette at the University of Western Ontario (mid-1990s). Each and every year, there was a hue and cry over whether or not the publication should endorse a candidate for the University Students’ Council elections.
On one hand, we would argue that because we followed the campaign so comprehensively, we were the best people to analyze the issues and make a suggestion from a neutral perspective. On the other hand, there were those who questioned our neutrality, as the paper’s budget was provided by the student’s council. Despite the arm’s-length relationship between council and The Gazette, essentially, we were endorsing someone who could become our quote-unquote boss.
It almost seems quaint to think about it now. In today’s world, that voice – as informed as it may be – is but one out of many.
The advantage that today’s voter has is that reams upon reams of information is available. You can read Web sites, Facebook posts, and Twitter feeds written by the candidate (or a campaign worker) themselves; you can access publications, both major and minor alike, to get differing opinions; and pretty much every moment of the campaign will be preserved in print, in pixels, or on video either by a professional journalist, a so-called citizen journalist, or a really eager political junkie.
It is that very advantage that also serves as today’s voter’s biggest challenge. How to you filter out all the noise? How do you discover the truth? Who do you trust?
For all the talk about how certain major papers are slanted one way or the other, the fact is that major (and minor) news services must adhere to the basics of responsible journalism. A good number of columnists, bloggers, and citizen journalists also hold themselves to those exacting standards, but there are a number who don’t. Information filtered through a warped perspective is just as dangerous as false information.
That’s nothing new in politics, though. One set of numbers can mean two different things depending on which side of the political spectrum you’re on. One candidate’s deficit is another’s hidden surplus; one’s crisis is another’s opportunity; and one’s absolute truth is another’s bold-faced lie.
So, in the end, who can you trust? There’s only one person: you.
Learning who to trust takes time. You have to invest in the information you’re receiving. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to do PhD-style research into each statement, but at the very least you should do a Google search on the more alarming or inflammatory comments. For every point, see if there’s a counter point.
And when it comes to bloggers, citizen journalists, and on-line columnists, hold them to the same standards that you do those in traditional media. Listen or read regularly, check the facts, and ensure they’re accountable to their statements.
Unfortunately, many of today’s bloggers can’t even spell libel or slander. It’s not even just thinking that the anonymity of the Internet affords them protection they don’t have; they’re just not aware that you can’t say certain things. It’s a product of the share-everything/comment-on-anything on-line environment in which they’ve grown up.
So read, read, and read. You’ll be able to sort out the wheat from the chaff. And if you’ve found someone (or already know someone) you can trust, then see who they’re reading and following.
Most importantly, just get informed. There are those who are completely unbiased out there, but you’re probably safer believing everyone has an agenda. But the only agenda that matters is yours – and by taking the time to filter that firehose of information gushing at you, you’ll find the right candidate whose actions match the words you want to read.