Are People Well-Informed if They Only Consume News that Suits Their Point of View?

Lee Hamilton served for 34 years in Congress and was Vice Chairman of the 9-11 Commission.

Lee Hamilton served in Congress for 34 years in and was the Vice Chairman of the 9-11 Commission.

In this age of fake news news, one of today’s challenges for educators and parents is guiding young people toward an understanding of what it means to be an informed citizen.

An important responsibility is helping children, pre-adolescents, and teens learn how to identify news sources and writing that come from responsible journalistic sources.

Months before the 2016 election former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton penned a thoughtful commentary, Social Media Challenges Democracy, considering what is required of an informed citizen, and predicted — intentionally or otherwise — some of the questions about news consumption that citizens have asked since November 2016. It’s an excellent discussion resource for educators and others who work with youth groups.

Lee Hamilton heads The Center on Representative Government at Indiana University.

In his commentary he asks:          

Does the ubiquity of information available through social media really help citizens understand complex issues, weigh competing arguments, and reach discriminating judgments about politics?

The concept of information reliability was much easier to teach before the advent of social media. These days social media allows anyone to create and interpret news and everyone to choose the sources of news content to personally consume. On Facebook feeds individuals have all sorts of choices — what to read, what to hide, what to ignore, etc. Moreover, some of the content providers have catchy  names that draw people in because of personal opinions, but many of these sites do not offer reliability and journalist integrity.

This leads to the a uniquely 21st Century question, Are people well-informed if they read only the news that suits their point of view?

Best quotes from Lee Hamilton’s commentary:

  • One question I’ve heard more than any other: “If I want to be an informed citizen, which sources of information should I consult?” For many years, I had a set answer: “Read one or more of the respected national news sources, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Financial Times, The Economist, etc.” I’m not sure how good that answer was at the time, but I know for certain it would be woefully inadequate now.
  • Does the ubiquity of information available through social media really help citizens understand complex issues, weigh competing arguments, and reach discriminating judgments about politics? Or does it overwhelm them with bursts of information that is so mixed as to quality that people simply throw up their hands, or, worse, charge full-tilt ahead based on a false understanding of reality?

Educators may also want to take some time to explore the Center for Representative Government’s classroom resources page which connects to many learning materials about the United States Congress.

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