I’ve found some great stories on Quora. The question-and-answer format brings some fascinating people and topics out of the woodwork. Readers ‘vote’ for the best answers, which democratizes the information in a way. In an age where we tend to read only what we agree with, I think that’s a valuable tool.
A week or so ago, the question “How might the public ensure we gain greater levels of truth from politicians and the media?” caught my eye, so I answered it. I thought it was worth re-posting here.
I’d like to divide this into two questions. I’ll do my best to answer both. But I’m making the editorial decision to remove the word ‘ensure’ from a post about truth, because anyone who thinks they can ‘ensure truth’ is likely fooling themselves into a false sense of security.
TO MOST LIKELY HEAR TRUTH FROM POLITICIANS:
Look to the data. The internet is a beautiful thing. Instead of trusting what a politician is telling you about a bill, you can find the text and read it yourself. Campaign disclosure reports are now filed online, so you can find out where your representatives are getting their money. You can even watch live webcasts of congressional hearings. These things are public for a reason.
Ask them yourself. If you have the time, there are so many ways you can interact with your elected officials. Attend city council meetings or sessions of the state legislature. Members of congress visit their home districts constantly–schedules of their public appearances are public. Or you can write to them. You might be surprised how often they read letters from constituents.
Hold them accountable. Watch the voting records of your members of Congress, and see how it matches up to their talking points. Check in to how the bills they sponsor impact the community they represent. If you don’t think they are acting in your best interest, write a letter. Start a petition, protest in the streets. Or simply VOTE. THEM. OUT. I will also include a plug that you keep your messages civil in matters of public discourse.
(That being said–if there’s a Quora-reading politician out there, I would welcome a post from you!)
TO MOST LIKELY HEAR TRUTH FROM THE MEDIA:
Choose wisely. At this point, I think every high school should include a media literacy class in their curriculum. Hyper-partisan media sources can seem like real news, and more and more organizations are realizing they can reach people on their own, without trying to pitch a story to a journalist. To mediate this, I ask that you read publications that have built a reputation of accuracy. I’m not here to pontificate on who you should and shouldn’t read. But this PIPA study on public misconceptions of the Iraq war compared to people’s media sources is very telling: Page on Uky. I’ve also found reading international discussion of American politics to be helpful–the BBC is great for this.
Stay skeptical. We all make mistakes. If something doesn’t sound right to you, check it out. Read a similar article from a different source. Or consult the aforementioned bills, hearings, and contribution data from earlier in this post.
Support the people doing it right. Talk is cheap. Solid fact checking and analysis are expensive because they take time. So if you appreciate quality news, buy a subscription to a paper that does solid investigative journalism. Share a well-researched article online that pushes the public discussion forward. You can do a lot of good by informing yourself and those around you, and by supporting people who have committed their careers to getting it right.
It’s a scary day when an election can be bought, and hearts and minds won over through a message that has no basis in fact. I suppose this is a start for what the public can do. We’ll do the best we can on our end, but there’s a lot more to be done.