The Importance of Telling the Whole Truth in an Age of Misinformation

By Katty Kay, Anchor of BBC World News America and best-selling author

I’ve been a broadcaster and journalist for over 30 years, reporting from Africa, Asia, Europe and the United States. It’s safe to say that the world has changed tremendously within that time. Back in the 90s we didn’t have Twitter or Facebook – we barely even had mobile phones. We relied so heavily on our colleagues on the ground to get reliable and accurate news. And whilst we of course still do this today, the way we source news and information globally is completely different.

As I mentioned to Joe DosSantos whilst I was a guest on the latest episode of Data Brilliant, every single morning, I get up and I look at my Twitter feed to find the latest breaking news story and check what information is trending. I'm constantly using this data to help me decide what decisions to make, whether it's about the research that I'm doing or the news programs that I'm putting on air. And, whilst this way of reporting and relying on world news has in some ways made the job of being a journalist so much easier, in many others it’s made it so much harder.

Today, anybody can be a publisher. Whilst this freedom of speech is necessary and has helped bring about important societal and economic change, we now live in an age where unfortunately, falsehoods are traveling faster than truth. That’s a terrifying prospect for all of us, not just for us who are in journalism, but for us as citizens. With so much misinformation – and disinformation – circling around the internet, being directed straight to our newsfeeds, how do we make informed decisions about what policies we support, who we're going to vote for and which news organizations to trust?

Democracies are going to be diminished by all of this misinformation – we’re already seeing it happen. Pandora’s box has been opened. And, as I discussed with Joe, whilst the responsibility of ethical and accurate reporting should always lie with the news organization, some of the onus must also lay with us as consumers of news to be more savvy about this. We are going to have to educate ourselves on how to spot what is real and what isn’t. Part of that comes down to data literacy – to analyzing, questioning and arguing with the information we see online. That means asking ourselves, does what I’m seeing or reading paint the whole picture? Has that photo I’m looking at on my newsfeed been cropped to tell only one part of the story and not the whole truth? And is the website I’m on reputable? Does it have editorial guidelines in place to check facts and tell both sides of the argument, fairly?

Joe rightly brought up the view that many people say there are alternative facts. But I don’t think there are. Facts are facts. It’s my job to be objective and tell the facts in a way that resonates and makes sense to the public at large. And that comes down to good storytelling, but also it comes down to using the right words to explain and ask questions of the data you’re reporting on.

An example of this that Joe and I talked about is the discussion currently happening in The United States about potentially raising the minimum wage. There are some sophisticated economic arguments and datapoints around this on both sides, but it’s my job to tell them in a way that people can relate to. I have to tell the human impact of the data we see.

As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “You're entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” And that’s something we all need to consider as misinformation continues to spread like wildfire, without many of us even realizing it.

Tune in to the latest episode of #DataBrilliant to hear @JoeDosSantos and guest @KattyKay_ contemplate the vital need to use and report #data responsibly within the media


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