A couple of weeks ago, BBC News unveiled BBC Verify, a new brand to counter disinformation and reinforce audience trust by showing how its journalists check the veracity of what’s reported. Inevitably, Verify has been frequently featured in the broadcaster’s radio and television news programmes since the announcement. Surveys (like the one here, for example) show there’s been a significant drop in trust in the UK news media over the last five years. With BBC News having suffered one of the biggest drops, it’ll be interesting to see if Verify helps to stem their downward trend.
The advent of BBC Verify, plus recent social media and online clamour surrounding a number of human tragedies, triggered childhood memories of the Badger’s father reading his newspaper at the breakfast table. He would regularly say ‘Don’t believe everything you read in newspapers, lad. Most of the information is just poison’. In today’s world we access and consume news and information in a very different way, primarily via our televisions and internet enabled laptops, tablets, and smartphones on a 24 by 7 basis. This fatherly advice, however, seems even more relevant than ever today. These days, being sceptical about the content you consume and wondering if it contains something poisonous likely to harm you, is definitely no bad thing.
In biochemistry, a poison is a natural or synthetic substance that causes damage to living tissue and has a harmful or fatal effect on our body. The act of poisoning involves a cause (the poison), a subject (the entity being poisoned), an effect (symptoms), and a consequence (debilitation or death). Awareness that things like insect and snake bites, drugs, dodgy food, pesticides, radiation, and biological/chemical agents can poison us is good, but our awareness that ‘information’ can poison our minds and change behaviour is still too low, especially in youngsters whose lives are dominated by social media and the virtual world. It’s no surprise that evidence for harm to young people’s mental health through their use of social media continues to grow.
The Badger’s found himself wondering if there’s merit in thinking of ‘information’ as a poison giving the synergy with the act of poisoning noted above. Just like a medical drug, ‘information’ consumed in an appropriate context from a trusted source can do much good. But also like a drug, ‘information’ in high quantity glibly absorbed and accepted from anywhere can cause an individual great harm. Categorizing ‘information’ as a poison might, perhaps, simplify and embed greater understanding of its potential impact on wellbeing, especially in youngsters.
The Badger tested this musing with his teenage nephew, only to be told that age had clearly affected his mental faculties! If that’s true, then it’s down to the ‘information poison’ he’s consumed over the years and the fact that there’s no real antidote in sight…