Where are the facts? Emotive rants begone!

November 13, 2022
3 mins read

PAT PILCHER calls for a measured, fact-based and verifiably sourced response to misleading social media posts.

It has become the wallpaper to my daily social media existence. Anti-Jacinda/Labour/Three Waters posts have an annoying habit of popping up with startling regularity in my feeds on the various social media forums I hang out on.

Don’t get me wrong. If the posts are erudite, witty, and based on fact, I’m all for them – regardless of their politics. Sadly, I’m seeing more posts that are little more than uninformed emotive rants. They often consist of people echoing existing National/Act talking points, most of which are factually incorrect to start with.

While irritating, these posts should also be a source of serious concern. First and foremost is the complete absence of facts in so many of these online rants.

If these posts were backed up with verifiable facts from credible sources, that’d be one thing. Sadly, the reality is that most are rambling whinges telling all and sundry how terrible the government is. Once looked at under the glare of simple fact-checking, most of these posts simply don’t check out.

This brings me to my second point of concern. Often, with these posts, I also see equally imbecilic replies like “good on ya, mate!” and other forms of agreement. Many people reading these posts need to think more critically and (god forbid) do some fact-checking.

Creating an echo chamber for emotive political sentiment can become an extremely toxic thing indeed. Emotional rants can soon be perceived as fact when they are often anything but. The upshot of this is that public discourse is distorted.

This brings me to my third concern. Mainstream media picks up on these posts and they inevitably get pitched at an editorial meeting to be turned into news stories. Some media outlets are more prone to this than others. The upshot is that what was once just an emotive rant on social media is soon portrayed as fact and amplified on a New Zealand-wide forum. That this further clouds public debate can be a very serious issue indeed.

It’s a vicious cycle. The reality is that negative or controversial news sells. Joe/Joanne Bloggs are likelier to click on a link that pitches negative news. Media outlets make their money from click-through revenues, and society is all the poorer for it.

The whole social media/mainstream media kit and kaboodle is quite a refined thing. Knowing that the public is unlikely to fact-check, PR firms push politicians to make inflammatory/misleading and sometimes bogus claims. These do the rounds on social media, only to be picked up as the basis for mainstream news stories. The media makes its money, the PR firms achieve their objectives, and the politicians enjoy a rise in the polls.

That the comment, which is now seen as fact, is often at odds with reality doesn’t seem to matter. Yet the real losers here are ordinary Kiwis who are left to live with the consequences of poorly thought-through and misleading policies.

There is hope. A growing number of media outlets in New Zealand are starting to ask hard questions of the National party. The New Zealand Herald – a usually right-leaning media outlet, recently published a piece that took a cynical look at Luxon’s tax cut proposals in light of his MacDonald’s publicity stunt.

However, more critical thought from people like you and me is also needed. Suppose someone makes a ranty and misleading claim on social media. In that case, you can get annoyed and respond accordingly, or you can go one better. Fact-check it using Google and then call out the person who posted the issue with a fact-based rebuttal. It’s far less toxic than a heated exchange of insults. In debating the topic (instead of the person), you also stand to gain a wider perspective that might have been otherwise missed in an online stoush.

So, how about it New Zealand? Surely facts over fiction can only be a good thing for everyone, right?


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Pat has been talking about tech on TV, radio and print for over 20 years, having served time as a TV tech guy and currently penning reviews for Witchdoctor. He loves nothing more than rolling his sleeves up and playing with shiny gadgets.

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