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America’s Polarized Reactions to Information Sources

Everyone’s been in conversations where they’re talking about the news and the other person believes the exact opposite event occurred. It’s a daily example of America’s polarized reactions to information sources, especially when conversations happen online. Let’s try to better understand why we don’t trust news sources anymore and how we can forge a better fact-based future.

1. 24-Hour News Cycles Weakened Story Quality

Before 1980, Americans could watch the news for 30 minutes every night. Three main stations were broadcasting in every state — CBS, ABC, and NBC. When CNN launched the first 24-hour news station on June 1, 1980, it propelled the country into the modern news world.

The concept of 24-hour news means that there must always be something to report. That isn’t always the case, but 24-hour stations still have to fill the time pre-paid for by their sponsors. It required filling airtime with lesser-quality stories, which may be why we don’t trust the media. If reporters present everything as breaking news all the time, it can feel like they’re blowing the information out of proportion.

2. News Revenue Changed

Technology developed exponentially after 1980 as everyone began to move online. People wanted to get their news through online posts instead of turning off their computers to sit in front of the TV. News corporations needed a new way to profit from their online content, which began the age of page views resulting in ad revenue.

To get more page views, headlines often spark an emotional reaction to get people to open the link and share the post with their friends.

To get more page views, headlines often spark an emotional reaction to get people to open the link and share the post with their friends. The content may not have anything other than a few sentences, rather than including robust reporting with a surplus of factual evidence.

Companies making money off of web traffic is another reason why Americans no longer trust news sources. They may dismiss entire corporations if they see manipulative wording in headlines all the time.

It also takes more work to sift through propaganda pandering for views and stories without emotional triggers or political bias. Anyone who wants to battle this problem without feeling overwhelmed should look at the information as presented. Trusted news sources reporting on factual information will always provide their insightful sources by linking to research articles or further details about an expert’s background in their field.

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3. Social Media Supports Misinformation

Social media also plays a role in why we don’t trust news sources anymore. The algorithms for each platform specifically pull posts and trending topics to a person’s feed if they’ve already shown interest in them. It creates a problem called confirmation bias, which reinforces a person’s beliefs instead of informing them about factual information.

It’s much easier to distrust specific news sources if they continuously confirm preexisting paranoia or fears through the posts you see on social media every day. Those websites also display what your loved ones post. If they’re sharing the same misinformation, you’re more likely to trust that it’s true without reading it.

Instigating arguments between loved ones is another reason why we don’t trust the media and may even accept misinformation for the sake of keeping the peace.

4. Politics Morphed Into Identity Wars

When people talk about their identity, they often mention their race, religion, or ethnicity. Those may have been the first characteristics brought up in the past, but research shows that partisan beliefs are now stronger identity features than any other personal or family connection.

Leaders and journalists weave political opinions and parties into core identity traits like religious values or community standing. The move forces politics into an identity war for every election cycle and the many months in between. It enflames America’s polarized reactions to information sources, all to keep an audience returning to a news company’s virtual or television content for ad revenue.

5. Representatives Repealed the Fairness Doctrine

In 1959, Congress passed the Fairness Doctrine, which made news sources legally liable if they failed to present balanced information free of bias. Lawmakers spent decades rewriting portions of the law until the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed it entirely in 2011.

With the doctrine no longer in place, news stations had much more legal freedom to present information in whatever way they saw fit. The historic move plays a significant role in why Americans no longer trust news sources. They see an unending stream of biased opinions published as news with no legal end in sight.

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America's Polarized News Reactions

There are many reasons why we don’t trust news sources anymore. Insufficient regulation, profit motives run amok, and algorithm programming all play into why corporations choose to publish content and produce shows that spark emotional reactions rather than challenge people’s thinking with facts. It’s crucial to keep these factors in mind when reflecting on the country’s intense political polarization.

Ginger Abbott