Help! I'm Lost in a Sea of Information Overload

Mass Media

September 12, 2021

There’s a liner by one of my favorite comedians, the inimitable Ronny Chieng, where he jokes about the abundance of information. He starts off saying, “The Internet is making people so f***ing stupid. Like, who knew all of human knowledge could make people dumber?” The one minute bit is pretty funny, but his entire special Asian Comedian Destroys America! on Netflix is a must-see.

But really, there's truth in every joke, right? And with so much information quite literally at our fingertips, it is hard to fathom the dichotomy of boundless information with the sheer number of truly misinformed. It's almost paralyzing to know where to even begin when trying to find out the facts.

You could Google "COVID vaccines," and find articles and content by CDC and HHS, journal publications by respected scientists and researchers, but also several blog websites detailing the "hidden dangers" of the vaccinations, forums shrouded in conspiracy theories, and then on the other hand have actual news sources spouting the same misinformation. Is one person's truth more truthful than another's?

Take this less controversial topic of eggs.

I love eggs. I eat sometimes 5+ eggs a day. I could live off these things, and quite often do. The cage-free ones only, of course.

When I started my weight loss journey in 2017, my Grandmom was very adamant on the dangers of eggs. Full of cholesterol, unhealthy, lots of fat. So, over the next year and a half of weight loss, I only ate egg whites.

A compilation of my weight loss journey. Thanks to egg whites! And other healthy, whole foods, of course!

2019, my Grandmom comes back to me and says, "You know, I've just heard eggs are actually really healthy for you. Eating cholesterol doesn't apparently raise your cholesterol, the yolk has all the vitamins and nutrients, and it's healthy fats for you."

So the next year, I started eating whole eggs again.

Then this year, my Grandmom comes back to me again and says, "Alyssa, I don't think you should be eating whole eggs. Apparently they're not that good for you." I was amused and annoyed. How many times was I going to do this? And the thing is, I can easily find scientific journals saying that eggs are the best things for you, you can eat several a day. In the same breath I can also say, it's just as easy to find scientific journals that say exactly the opposite. There is information out there quite literally at odds with each other.

So how does one part the waves in a sea full of clashing information?

Let's Step Two It

I mean two-step. As in the two-step flow theory. This concept says the flow of information and influence has two steps. That information flows from the mass media to our influencers/opinion leaders and from there it gets disseminated to the public. If you're fancy is tickled, you can read more here.

If you were to think about it, I think a lot of us use this approach when it comes to seeking out information ourselves, especially when it comes to the news.

I know for me personally, I tend to get all my information from CNN and, much to my award-winning journalist sister's dismay, Yahoo! News. Hey, CNN tells me next to nothing on Kimye's latest drama. A girl has her guilty pleasures, after all.

But once I have this information, where do I usually turn? Public figures honestly. Their responses and reactions help me process the information and make informed opinions.

Following in Al Gore's Carbon Footprints

Here's a good example. I grew up in the late nineties/early aughts. I was a freshman in high school when Al Gore's document An Inconvenient Truth (2006) came out.

I obviously had heard about global warming before 2006, and I recycled and cut up my plastics so sea animals didn't suffocate, but I didn't have a really strong opinion until I listened to Gore's documentary. I remember being 14 on the couch in tears, running to Google afterwards as to what I could do help. That year, I joined the Ecology Club. The last two years of high school I ran it as the Ecology Club President where I did hands on lessons, brought in guest speakers, took us on tours, participated in beach clean-ups, etc.

This was one case where just having the information was one thing, but being filtered through and presented by an opinion leader was a whole new level.

Even now-a-days as I get my base information from actual news sources, how do I share content and news with others? Do I share CNN's 5 min coverage of the story? Almost never.

I am more apt to share someone's opinion who I find entertaining or informed. These days that would be more in line with a John Oliver segment or from Stephen Colbert back when I watched The Colbert Report daily.

For instance, we all saw the awful aftermath a couple weeks back when American troops left Afghanistan and Kabul was overtaken by the Taliban. But opinion leaders like John Oliver made it more easily understood and put it in a way that was more able to be shared with friends and co-workers. Oliver's anger and outrage coupled with humor and compassion makes him someone I look to for his opinion. More-so than just his opinion, he is one to fact-check and call out inconsistencies in our news when he sees them.

In the clip above you hear President Biden give his clear cut reason why America was in Afghanistan in the first place, but even listening to Biden speak, I knew what he said was a half-truth. And Oliver rightfully pulls sources and quotes from the past twenty years for further information on all the reasons good and self-serving of why we were there so long.

The Takeaway

So having an opinion leader or influencer dive deeper into just what the mass media presents to us can definitely be helpful. Of course it also depends on the influencer. Do they conduct research and use logic, science, and real news sources as basis for information? Or is the influencer some guy in a basement typing away with conspiracy theories?

I think the two-step flow theory can be a helpful way to sort through and receive information in a world chock full of it. But it's also on us to do our own research and draw our own conclusions and opinions.

Top Level Domains

Look for real sources when it comes to factual information. Sites that end with .gov are good places for information. Sites ending with .org mean nothing. I can easily go out and buy a domain with a .org - it's so easy, you could do it too. It has no more credibility than a .com does.

Get a Well-rounded View

Although I identify as a Democrat, I do often read FOX News, NBC, and CNN, as well as the AP to get a more holistic view on an issue or news story. It's important to see how everyone is reporting and then you can get a bigger view even though some things may be contradictory.

Seek Out First-hand Testimonials

If possible, listen to people who experienced the situation or event first-hand. Many people can have the same experience and different interpretations. For example, in the exit of Afghanistan, our leadership officials will have their first-hand account, and the refugees who fled will have theirs. Some things may contradict each other. Ultimately it's up to us to form our own takeaways and opinions.

Seek Out Real Source Content

Instead of listening to a report or recap of the Presidential debate, why not watch the source footage or read back the transcript? When possible, go look at the real thing. People always seem to have a camera on them to record events that end up on the news, too. It doesn't just limit itself to big events and debates and press coverage. If you can get part of the real experience for yourself, go seek it out and watch. Hear the actual words spoken, see what happened for yourself. Listen to the police calls, see the camera footage, view the source media for yourself. That's stuff that can't be misinterpreted. That's something you can look at objectively as truth.