I started a six-month hiatus from Facebook and other social media in July 2016.
The animosity of the 2016 political campaigns and election were undeniable motivators for this social media fast.
There was, however, one horrifying occurrence that ultimately caused me to temporarily cut ties with this form of media consumption.
As I was scrolling through my news feed, I clicked “like” on an outrageous news article about Donald Trump.
It cast unfavorable light on Trump and – considering some of the “unprecedented” aspects of the 2016 campaign – it seemed reasonable.
I later found out that it was a fake news story. I went back and unliked the post. Days later, I suspended my Facebook account.
Over the past few months, I have engaged news in ways completely separate from any social media – unless, of course, a news article or report cited a Tweet or Facebook post.
I have learned a few things during this time, and three tactics seem appropriate to share:
1. We should garner tools to wrestle with multiple spectrums of thought.
Learning to wrestle with multiple ideas and sources is something that I think about often as a pastoral theologian.
The field of pastoral theology is an intrinsically interdisciplinary field. Pastoral theologians, therefore, are always developing methods to hold theological, scriptural, social and clinical theories and practices together as we construct theology from real-life experience.
When engaging multiple voices and sources, it is important to know how you value different sources.
What is your implicit and explicit bias when picking source material? Which theologians’, ethicists’ and biblical scholars’ voices do you value? Why do you value their voices as opposed to other voices? What are you missing if you exclude the voices of groups that are under-represented in your source material?
If you want to engage a broader range of sources, one rudimentary way to do so is to pay attention to how the author identifies herself or himself. Is there diversity?
Consider whether the columnists you read are all writing from one perspective or whether there are several viewpoints being shared.
Ask yourself how the news and opinion pieces you rely on for information stack up when put into conversation with the social and scientific evidence you read and value.
Even more, we should start consuming media from a depth of media contributions.
Read what Fox News has to say and what MSNBC offers. Read The Wall Street Journal and listen to NPR. Consider media pundit opinions and do your own investigation.
I promise that consuming media broadly will be infuriating, at times. I also promise that it will enrich your curiosity and enliven your positions.
2. We should become critically engaged with our media consumption.
This takes effort and more than a swipe of the finger through a news feed.
I want to share a few important questions I ask myself when I critically engage both theological sources and my news:
- Whose agenda does this source serve?
- What person or groups are behind this piece? Do I want to be in association with them?
- Is this idea being reported across a range of media outlets or does this story come from one single source? (Again, we should read broadly.)
- What materials are peer reviewed? Is there an editorial board or staff that checks for gross errors or fictions? (I fully acknowledge that having an editorial board does not eliminate bias but it does provide some accountability.)
3. We should focus on accountability.
We should hold media outlets accountable for the quality (and accuracy) of the news they provide.
We should hold ourselves accountable for our “shares” and “likes.” We add to the problem when we uncritically dissipate outrageous and incendiary thought.
We should slow down our media consumption to critically engage that which we read and share. We should support peer- and editor-reviewed news outlets that enrich the landscape with in-depth looks at critical issues.
Media consumption should take time, just as other worthwhile aspects of life.
Dawn Hood-Patterson is a doctoral candidate at Brite Divinity School, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas, and a chaplain at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. You can follow her on Twitter @DawnHoodPatt.