Meg Lee Chin

Is internet gossip more reliable than mainstream news?

Mainstream journalists often express despair that people "believe everything they read on the internet". The standard wisdom is that news must be sourced reliably. As such, good journalists faithfullly adhere to a code of standards.

But Ronald Reagan's deregulation of the media in the 80's has reduced the evening news to mere entertainment and worse, a tool of propaganda for a few corporations. Likewise the UK media is becoming more and more subject to corporate interests.

We are now living in an age where once reliable sources have been thrown into doubt. We now know, that there never really were any weapons of mass destruction. Snowden proved our governments are spying on us. We also know that some journalists hacked phones. Our media has demonstrated that they can't be trusted. Therefore in the absence of trusted information is it any surprise that people turn to wild speculation? Psychologists tell us the imagination will happily fill in any void.

As such conspiracy theories are rooted unabashedly in gossip. However a factory worker on the ground floor with no access to the bosses upstairs would be wise to at least give the "word of mouth" on the floor a listen. This is especially true when his livelihood is dependent on it. After all, there is no smoke without fire. Furthermore during a real fire, it is usually the most hyper-alert, paranoid and vigilant person in the room who notices it first.

Growing up in America, I was taught to believe that the Russians were "brainwashed" by their state controlled media. In the early 90's our band Crunch arrived as the first English group to perform in the Ukraine just after their independence from the USSR. So, imagine my surprise in learning that in fact your average 12 year old Russian was more informed politically than your average adult American? How could this be?

The important difference was that the Russians were fully aware that their news was propaganda. Therefore they learned to effectively use "word of mouth" in a discerning way. Conversely we Americans did not realize our news was heavily biased. Therefore we lost out on vital information. The lesson here, is to develop a respect for humble "word of mouth" news.

Today Joe Public knows that our media is heavily biased and he has turned to the internet. He is not the raving loon which he has been portrayed as being. He doesn't naively believe every word he reads. On the contrary knowing that much of the information is likely to be false, Joe Public maintains a discerning eye, cross checking against a variety of sources - including mainstream news. He also applies a dose of good old fashioned and under-rated common sense, much like the Russians did when they knew they couldn't trust their media.

To my journalist friends I would say don't rely solely on traditional sources, give the gossip on the shop floor a listen because you may learn something. How about investigating some of this smoke? It's beginning to get hot in here...