News or else

There is much talk nowadays about fake news. Some would argue that fake news and similar notions – rumors, half-truths, misconstructions and the like – are as old as the world and our times are not as singular as many seem to believe. That discussion could take us very far; we will not proceed down that path.
However, we should recognize that the complexity of relations in today’s highly connected societies, as compared to smaller, more secluded communities in earlier times, gives to social interactions an intensity and immediacy that are in many ways unprecedented. The access to the news and the ability to respond to it, as well as the speed and impact of that response have changed accordingly.
One thing, however, has not changed and will possibly never change. The media influence us, and we will always try to influence the media. The diversity of interests and visions in society and their inevitable conflicts will guarantee it will be so. In these circumstances, the responsibility of the media to inform and safeguard the reliability and accuracy of the information has only increased.
No doubt, firm facts may be time-consuming to ascertain, the resources required may not always be available, and access to the sources of accurate information may be hard. But recognizing the difficulties does not diminish or lighten the responsibility.
That’s why one should be especially careful when reporting on the results, real or apparent, of all kinds of inquiries, surveys, polls and similar news ‘sources’ that populate the media nowadays. We may take the reported results as indicators of social opinions or trends, provided they obey suitable technical procedures and the analysis remains objective. But they are indicators or pointers, at best, not facts.
They can be presented as research and, presumably, involve some technical skills; they may purport to be ‘scientific.’ As such, they can be used (and abused) as tools to influence people’s opinions and behavior. But that does not guarantee that they are true, unbiased or unquestionable – or are not being used to misinform or mislead deliberately. The reporting of that kind of information should, therefore, be exceptionally alert and cautious.
In particular, we should be wary of studies or polls that do not make explicit the methods and assumptions underpinning them. Also, we must not take the interpretations of results conveyed by those with a stake in them, no matter how respectable or reasonable they appear, as if they were unquestionable.