Thursday, January 27, 2011

Investigate First.

Newspapers and their online equivalents often bug me. Collectively, they serve as the primary avenue for citizens to hear about things that are going on. They are important, but more than ever, the motivation behind the stories is money. Sensationalist headlines bombard us, misleading at best, blatant lies at worst.

That is a problem, to be sure, but there is another issue at hand as well: the readers. At what point will readers realize what is going on and decide to actually read articles before making up their minds about the issue at hand. If an average American cannot read an article, pick out the important facts, and come up with a reasonable conclusion, our society is failing in some pretty foundational ways.

As an example (used only because it popped up this morning), take a look at the headline of an article from It reads:
Google Starts Censoring BitTorrent, RapidShare, and More
"Oh no! Corporate censorship!" scream readers. Without any other information, I would have to agree with them. I would rather not see Google censoring their search results. But wait a minute... after finally taking the time to click the link and read the article summary, I see this:
It’s taken a while, but Google has finally caved in to pressure from the entertainment industries including the MPAA and RIAA. The search engine now actively censors terms including BitTorrent, torrent, utorrent, RapidShare and Megaupload from its instant and autocomplete services. The reactions from affected companies and services are not mild, with BitTorrent Inc., RapidShare and Vodo all speaking out against this act of commercial censorship.
Still outraged? Take a closer look. Google is actively censoring terms "from its instant and autocomplete servies." The change made here is that if you want to search for BitTorrent on to Google homepage, you will have to type in the whole word and tap the enter key. The results are exactly the same.

Of course, some readers are still just as angry as they were before reading the article, but hopefully less so. The problem is that the headline was not written to inform citizens of what they are about to read, it was to get them so pissed off that they click on a link, driving up site statistics. There is legitimate information in there, but it comes wrapped in deception.

This brings me to my challenge to you:
Refrain from making a decision based on headlines. Avoid outrage before taking the time to discover whether it has any rational basis. Sometimes it will, sometimes not, but either way at least you will know.

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