Look at these three headlines which appeared in a Facebook feed on June 5. They are all referring to the same EPA report on fracking.
Each headline gives a very different impression of the situation, and yet they are all talking about the same report. Ecowatch is confirming that fracking pollutes drinking water. The NPR headlines seems to say that there is no great problem with fracking and drinking water. Mother Jones is teasing everyone with a hint of implication about the dangers of fracking (or at least I would argue that this is in the headline.)
What’s quite interesting, however, is if you click into all three articles, the same basic information is given: the EPA found that there is no widespread drinking water threat from fracking, though contamination is possible if safeguards are not maintained. I think this is an accurate assessment of what the EPA actually said. And all three articles mentioned this as well.
But what’s the problem? The problem is that we live in a headline society. Too many people get their news through news feed such as this and the headlines are used as the gospel.
Let’s take Bob who has been an out spoken critic of fracking all along. Bob sees the Ecowatch headline and yells over to his friend Jack, who is for fracking:
“Hey Jack, did you see the news? The EPA confirmed that drinking water is contaminated by fracking. I told you so. We need to shut down all those wells. It says so right here on Ecowatch!”
If Jack doesn’t do any further investigation on the issue, then Bob must be right because the headline says so right in front of him.
So Bob shares that headline on his Facebook feed, which in turn is shared again and again. Thousands of people and their bias is confirmed because of a headline which is, let’s be honest, misleading.
Is the headline technically true? Yes.
Ahaaa! If it’s true, then why not use it, right?
Wrong! It’s shoddy journalism that is meant to feed a certain bias. There’s nothing wrong with a bias towards saving the environment, but it is intellectually dishonest to spin the EPA’s results into such a misleading headline. The headline is implying that ALL fracking is bad because it causes water contamination. There are no qualifiers to better understand what the EPA is actually saying. The EPA report actually bolsters the idea that fracking is, for the most part, safe. But this headline was spinning it a completely different way.
But this is just fracking. Only one hot issue. There are dozens of other issues which are daily spun on their heads, twisted and cavorted into short flashy headlines which are meant to feed a bias. Whether it’s ISIS, Hillary Clinton, Climate Change, Race Relations, or Healthcare, the media is saturated with ways to get across an agenda rather than to inform.
For one to be media savvy:
1) Don’t fall for headlines. Click and read to see if that is actually what the full article says.
2) Don’t fall for biased sources. Yes, every source will have a bias, but some more than others. A organization like Ecowatch will have a clear bias. It’s up to you to decide if that bias is good or bad, but you need to understand there is one.
3) Remember that .org websites are created to support a certain agenda.
4) Remember that .com websites are created to make money.
5) Only pass on news that is vetted and true. If you aren’t sure about something, don’t share it.
These few tips will help us all have a better understanding of what is actually going on.