Images and memes are often created to leave a particular impression, whether true or false. It’s important to ask who might be trying to manipulate us.
I’m fascinated by how information spreads online, which is how I have ended up spending so much time arguing about, and writing about, how we consume online information. Whether it’s helping people learn how to fight fake news, or reviewing the media’s attempt at doing so, I’ve sort of backed into a study of the things people share online. Occasionally I find an example interesting enough to help illustrate a point I want to make, so today we’re going to dissect an image and see what we can learn from it.
I found this image on one of the social media platforms that I frequent, an image taking a jab at CNN. You might recall that President Trump called CNN ‘fake news’ in a press briefing, and so this image resonates with some of his supporters who enjoyed seeing CNN taken down a peg. (I admit, I had a giggle at that when it happened, too.)
That image is good for a chuckle; it looks like CNN is all over the map on paid family leave, depending upon whether Trump is for it or against it. And that is probably the intent behind creating it. But let’s take a deeper look and find out whether that’s a legitimate assumption.
First, since the image is showing some headlines from CNN, it’d be a good idea to make sure they are actual headlines of actual articles. And when we search on the headlines we find the following:
So each of the articles actually exist on CNN’s website. That’s good, because occasionally someone fabricates a fake tweet or a false headline to stir people up or make a point. Now we know that we’re dealing with real headlines of real articles.
Next, we’ll check out the dates and see if the articles are in sequence.
Everyone should have a shot at paid family leave – April 4, 2017
Trump’s budget to include paid family leave – May 22, 2017
How paid family leave hurts women – May 30, 2017
Yep, the dates check out. So far this image is legit. Those three headlines were published in that order on those three dates. That’s really all the image tells you, or claims to tell you.
The implication, though, is that CNN first took a position that everyone should have the opportunity to take paid family leave. Next, CNN reported that the president added paid family leave to his budget. And THEN, after noting Trump’s apparent support, CNN then took the position that paid family leave hurts families. The idea being served up here is that CNN changed positions after seeing Trump propose a policy they supported. Naturally CNN had to now oppose the policy, and couldn’t be seen to be on the same side of an issue as the president.
This isn’t necessarily an unrealistic criticism, especially given the game of musical chairs played over the past year by political parties and the media when it came to the issue of FBI Director James Comey. It’s worth it to look into the articles a little further, just to see whether that same game is being played here as well.
And when we do look at the first and the third articles, we notice something interesting. Those two are opinion articles, written by different authors. The first is an advocacy piece by two activists from the left on women’s issues; one a former economist on Hillary Clinton’s team, and one an organizer for various liberal causes. The third is an opinion article written by a policy analyst from the CATO institute, a libertarian think tank.
Apparently, in a surprise move, CNN actually decided to offer multiple viewpoints on an issue. But isn’t that what CNN’s critics have been calling for? An end to bias? More exposure of its audience to non-liberal ideas?
This drive-by meme-ing takes the positive of CNN providing multiple viewpoints, and turns it on its head, using it to manufacture further proof of CNN’s bias. I don’t know about you, but I find that extremely intellectually dishonest. Sure, it’s good for a laugh. But it’s not a good example of a very real and legitimate criticism one could make about CNN.
I really do think CNN has displayed bias, many times. I think most news organizations do, and I’ve addressed that multiple times. My point is that if CNN is indeed that biased, surely legitimate examples are readily available. Why would people need to invent a false incident of bias, or one that really demonstrates the opposite idea?
That, my friends, is how you can tell someone is trying to play you. And if you take a few minutes like I did to dig into an issue, you can learn to spot it, call it out, and encourage people to think just a little bit more about the information they take in.
What could be wrong with that?