4. When it’s easier to find news sources that confirm people’s biases, it’s also easier to find news stories that inflame their outrage.
Competition among media organizations is healthy. But the race for readers and ratings carries the risk of reducing trust in “the media” because so many media organizations often distinguish themselves by demonstrating their superiority over mainstream news. The term “mainstream media” is a dirty word on Fox News. Popular shows like Bill Maher’s Real Time and The Daily Show make a living by skewering the hyperbolism of cable coverage. It’s as if every media organization is also a media critic.
Today’s journalists are more comfortable taking strong positions on partisan issues than they used to be. This is often a good thing. But the increased partisanship of large news outlets might feed a public perception that neutral objectivity doesn’t exist, and therefore, people are entitled to scream “partisanship!” about any viewpoint that they disagree with. The Pittsburgh-Tribune Review recently asked Donald Trump Jr., how he felt that the Pulitzer Prize-winning team at PolitiFact found that 70 percent of his father’s claims were false, more than twice the ratio of Hillary Clinton. Trump’s response: “I would argue that PolitiFact is a very liberal organization.” The shocking thing about this claim is that it’s not shocking, at all. It has become acceptably normal for a politician to call a Pulitzer-Prize winning organization “very biased” if it disagrees with him. There is also no risk in saying so.
What role does Facebook (or Twitter, or Reddit) play in this? Many argue that these sites seal audiences’ ideological echo chambers, organizing the world of information so that some readers only see news that they are likely to agree with.