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The State of Free Information in 2022: How Free Is It?

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Free information is part of what makes America a free country. But in 2022, the free press doesn’t necessarily mean free. The press can report unfavorably on political figures and celebrities — but what if that information is hidden behind a paywall? Not to mention the pandemic has launched an Infodemic of conflicting reports of trustworthy facts. Plus, the spread of “fake news” in the form of unverified “facts” on memes, social media posts, and websites has increased the spread of misinformation. 

It’s easy to take for granted the amount of information freely available. Some countries ban books, censor the Internet and suppress the media. Meanwhile, Americans can go to libraries and access not just books but scientific journals or legal information. But still, how free is information in 2022?

The problem with paywalls

Some of the news outlets with the most robust reporting are hidden behind paywalls. This creates a bit of a problem. While news outlets clearly do have operating costs this does put a financial barrier between people and information. Is solid reporting only available to people who can pay?

There are ways to bypass paywalls to get a peek at some of the news you’re looking for. According to CBC, there’s no guarantee that paywalls can save the news industry, either. After all, they can inspire people to choose alternative news sources. 

Since people can choose to opt out of paying for news, they’ll simply head elsewhere. This can become problematic with the amount of incorrect “reporting” on social media, memes, and videos. People can go to news sources that speak to their values or say what they want to hear. This is causing some trouble. How can we get unbiased news at a time when people can simply read whatever they want to?

Fake news, the infodemic & journalistic ethics 

It began with allegations of “fake news.” Suddenly there were political lines in the news that people began seeking out. Now news seekers can decide where they get their information based on their political views. Some may even opt to get their information from other countries. 

That’s well and good but the COVID-19 pandemic launched an infodemic where this selective reporting and reading has increased the misinformation about valuable health and medical information. If people can find “news” that corroborates their beliefs or makes them feel better, is it actual news?

Joe Rogan launched a media firestorm after receiving an exclusive deal for his podcast The Joe Rogan Experience on Spotify. He received $200 million and it started trouble not just because the music app has not paid artists that much.  He came under heat for various episodes on which he shared anti-vaccination information. Multiple doctors even wrote an open letter regarding the misinformation and sent it to Spotify. 

As a result of the infodemic, people started seeking out information out of a sense of urgency, a want for comfort, and a need to stay safe. The vast amount of misinformation shifted how we look at the news. The last few years have even given psychologists information to study the spread of misinformation.

We are living in polarized times. With so many news sources and people simply able to opt-out of news they don’t want to hear, it’s easy for them to seek out news from a source they want — or just not watch the news at all. These attitudes are what contributed to the popularity of Joe Rogan’s podcast. But is a podcast a source for news? 

There are ethics to reporting journalism. They may have been dinged by the age of the 24-hours news cycle and clickbait headlines. But the news should be balanced and unbiased. It requires research and sources who are willing to go on the record in the name of truth. Bias is hard to snuff out, though.

A shift to social media 

Many have become jaded with the state of news media. Whether because it’s depressing or frustrating they simply opt-out of consuming the news at all. Some turn to social media to keep their ear to the ground for what’s happening. But social media is the opposite of unbiased and balanced. There’s also no accounting for accuracy. 

After all, Snopes went from debunking urban legends to acting like a fact-checker for the Internet. How often have false rumors of celebrity deaths or misrepresented historical facts have gone viral? People can miss the full story if they don’t verify things they absentmindedly share on social media. 

Some social media can be valuable, however. Twitter was instrumental in offering real-time videos of what happened to George Flloyd and other victims of police brutality. It sparked an international conversation about the limits of police power and race in America. Social media was also important in tracking down the perpetrators of the 2021 United States Capitol Attack. 

Facebook and Twitter do work to snuff out misinformation, but it can border on censorship. After all, who gets targeted for being put into Facebook “jail?” People can get banned or warned for personal expression so even social media is not completely “free” for expression. 

Ultimately, the days of passive news watching are over. It’s important to be discerning and look for multiple news sources to verify facts. This not only ensures that you get a balanced perspective but a clearer picture of the truth. While we’ll hopefully move past polarized politics and imbalanced news, at least you can occasionally peek behind a paywall and some of your social media contacts may introduce you to actual information. But a little skepticism doesn’t hurt either. 

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