Intelligent Consumption of News

The United States has serious issues in how information is relayed to the people. Misinformation runs rampant and the norm is to speak first, check facts later and boil issues down to black and white. An excellent example is the uninformed hysteria recently over seismic activity in our own backyard, Yellowstone National Park.


Last month, a 4.8 magnitude earthquake struck the park, the largest in 30 years. Yellowstone, which sits atop a gigantic hotspot of volcanic activity, has long been fodder for alarmists. The recent activity set off a wave of panic across social media forums, claiming a catastrophic eruption was imminent. These claims, backed by viral videos of wild animals fleeing the park, raced around the world. When the facts were checked however, there was little to no cause for alarm.


Turns out, animals fleeing the park in large numbers is a yearly occurrence around early spring, due to heavy snowpack and a dwindling food supply. These same herds return within months to their usual grazing areas once snow melts off and grass grows again. Additionally, seismic activity is regular in the park and even a 4.8 magnitude earthquake is nearly undetectable without instruments. The United States Geological Service keeps an eye on the park’s activity around the clock as well, using sophisticated data collection. The technology we have could predict an eruption weeks in advance, allowing for ample time to prepare for such an intense, global event. All this aside, the odds of such an event occurring within our lifetime, or indeed several lifetimes, is extremely remote.


The point of this article is not to ease your mind over Yellowstone National Park. If that is an irrational fear you possess, Montana, Idaho or Wyoming may not be among the best places for you to live. The point is that issues are frequently sensationalized and the facts are overlooked. Worse yet, many issues broadcasted on the internet or mainstream news are boiled down to a headline; an image and a caption. In reality, issues are never black and white, right or wrong. There is always a gray area, and you should always be capable of changing your opinion based on data you receive.


It is also important to diversify your sources of information. No matter how you identify yourself politically, culturally or religiously, you should have access to a number of news sources. Even if you disagree with everything you hear from a particular site, at least you are gaining a greater understanding of how other people think about issues.


Ultimately, you can never count on your information being completely accurate or unbiased. Never forget that every source of news is out to balance a book of some kind, and their buck comes from somewhere. Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, every pundit and publication has some sort of motivation for putting information out into the world. As a responsible citizen and consumer of information, it is your responsibility to check and conclude on your own.