Fake News

I'll be frank: I'm very concerned about the political attacks on democracy right now both in Ontario and in the US. Whether I agree with the leanings of a political leader or party, I expect those in government to uphold, not erode, the freedoms we are guaranteed. I'd like to see a much more participatory form of democracy, for I see too many people feeling so unrepresented that they lose all hope.

Years ago when I was teaching literacy to at-risk teens, I would tell them that literacy was not a tool for writing boring English papers. It was a tool of self-empowerment. We did exercises to examine the bias of news articles and other sources. They wrote letters to the editor themselves (one pregnant teen I taught was published, talking about the lack of resources for teen parents in Toronto). These teens had never been told their voices were important.

Most people reading this have perfectly good literacy skills, and likely do believe that, in some way, their voice is important. So my message to you is a bit different. However, this moment seems to call for a back-to-basics approach.

Someone I often disagree with politically, recently referred to mainstream coverage of an issue as "fake news." So, here we are, in Canada, having seemingly bought into the hysteria around propaganda. Here's my handy rabbinic breakdown:

- There is fake news/propaganda. You should be able to detect it. Does it seem untrue? Are sources checked? Is the news source itself reliable/reputable? Is the bias obvious/overwhelming? That's fake news.

- Most of what is called "fake news" by some politicians, by the alt-right, and by others who dislike the coverage, is not actually fake news. Clapping loudly to drown out questions by reporters does not lead to fake news. Nor does it encourage critical coverage. One should ask what the clapping is meant to hide. I find the coverage by many mainstream/corporate media channels insufficient, but it isn't fake.

- All "news" has bias. Journalists are taught to be "objective," however the media conglomerates, the individuals themselves, the advertisers, all create some bias in the news we consume. It may be the stories that get covered versus ignored. It may be the slant the article/story takes. There is bias. Watch for it.

Freedom of the press and freedom of speech are fundamental democratic principles. Government-controlled news sources are not a way forward if we are wanting unbiased (or less-biased) reporting. I hope this is an issue you're willing to raise your voice over.

I used to tell the teens, but sometimes must remind myself that my voice matters. I'm a critical reader and have the ability to express myself in writing. I plan to be all over the media and my political representatives, holding them to account. Join me.