The Information Apocalypse

Category:  News
Thursday, January 31st, 2019 at 5:21 PM
The Information Apocalypse by Anisa Venner-Johnston

Today, it is nearly impossible to escape the term “fake news.” Its debated definition has infiltrated our news media, our conversations at home, and our college campuses. It leads to never-ending discussions on where we can go for our news and who we can trust to deliver it. At Edinboro University, a light was shined on the situation as students, teachers and community members gathered in the Pogue multipurpose room.

Mari K. Eder, an Edinboro alumna and retired U.S. Army major general, was the guest speaker at Edinboro’s “The Information Apocalypse” event on Wednesday, Jan. 23. Eder addressed fake news, plus what institutions we put our confidence in. 

One of the topics was news outlets being owned by major companies. When anyone can be a journalist through social media, and news outlets are being owned by major companies, who are citizens to trust?

“In 1983, 90 percent of the media in this country was owned by 50 companies. Now, there are only four (within this percentage) — Comcast, Disney, Viacom, [and the merger of] Time Warner and AT&T,” Eder said. 

“Does that make you feel uncomfortable about what you read? How do you know where to find news that you can trust and rely on?”

Much of Eder’s research is drawn from statistics pulled from Gallup Polls and the Edelman Trust Barometer, the latter of which is a website that polls America to see who we trust, who we don’t trust and how educated we are as a nation.  Eder pointed out, that according to Gallup, Americans have a lot of trust in the army, banks and small businesses. Americans currently lack trust in Congress, newspapers and the presidency. 

“Now, for a long time, I read Gallup polls because in the Army we tend to look at those things to see where the military ranks as an institution in the United States and how people feel about it,” Eder explained.  

Element, another source Eder uses, is a global communications firm. She stated that while she was doing research last January, Element had reported that there was a 37 percent drop in confidence in the U.S. in all institutions — congress, journalism, the presidency and the military, among others.

On the other hand, she saw that countries like China and Russia, who have government-controlled press, were also the countries that had high trust in their government. This well-controlled platform didn’t allow for controversy and debate about the facts being given to the people. 

She connected this to fake news. In America, people have access to so many different platforms that allow citizens to get news. Also, social media allows anyone to claim a journalist status, so it bombards the readers. This causes confusion on who they can trust. 

“There are a lot of social media sites that are, I think, favored by groups, and by [some] generations. We have tech companies that have come under great scrutiny because of what they allow on their sites. Twitter in this last year removed 10,000 users. [All] fake accounts, fake news,” Eder explained. 

 As a way of solving the fake news crisis, Eder encouraged the crowd to be open minded on where they get their information and to travel more to understand things differently. She believed that by seeing one country’s problems, it might give you a new perspective on your own country. 

“The most important thing you can do is be open minded on where your information comes from,” Eder said. “We are so focused on this country (America). If you live in another country, you’re bombarded by different languages and perspectives and backgrounds and histories.”

She found this advice helpful to her. Eder listed names like the BBC, The Telegraph, and several German papers as sources she uses, as well as The New York Times.  

Fake news is a problem the whole world is currently dealing with and navigating through. While fake news often goes hand-in-hand with politics, she believes it doesn’t have to, and that you can just focus of trends 

and facts and see a bigger picture. 

“So, it’s not about one person, one party, one thing. My perspective is to try and get people to go ‘what?’ and to pay attention.”

Eder earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from Edinboro University. She also attended the U.S. Army War College, where she graduated with a master’s in strategic studies. Eder has received several awards —  such as the Vatican Award of the Knight and the Joe Galloway Lifetime Achievement Award — and was also presented with an honorary doctorate from Edinboro.

Anisa Venner-Johnston | edinboro.spectator@gmail.com

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