Americans have lost faith in journalism. Although some feel that this is related to recent political events, polls have actually found that Americans faith in journalism has been steadily dropping since 1972.
Not surprisingly Americans have reached a historical low when it comes to their trust in mainstream media. Because of this people have began turning to Internet sources to find “the truth”.
Too many truths
Unfortunately there are an abundant amount of sources on the Internet. Many people have a difficult time separating what they want to believe and the truth (Dutton, & Reisdorf, 2016).
Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as confirmatory bias. Confirmatory bias occurs in research when a researcher gathers data that confirms their hypothesis and ignores any data that refutes their hypothesis. Because of this, researchers are trained in the scientific method, to try to avoid biased research from being published. Further safe guards are put into place by having other professionals in the field review the research (peer review process) before the study is conducted.
Even with all of these safe guards in place, bias research still ends up being released (Woo, O'Boyle,& Spector, 2016).
If this phenomenon occurs amongst trained professionals what would be the effects on someone with no background in social science?
This was the question that was investigated by Villarole et al (2016). The study found that when people are presented with information they agree with first, it leads to confirmation bias in their arguments.
Wikileaks and the new face of journalism
It should be noted that Wikileaks played a substantial role in Americans distrust in Clinton and selecting Trump as POTUS. Not to say that Clinton didn't serve her own role by her actions. But it was interesting how Trump played on Americans distrust of the government and media, to make himself look like a politician the people could trust.
Does this mean that Wikileaks has an agenda and cannot be trusted?
This question is very difficult to answer. Wikileaks is an organization that provides information. By definition it is considered a type of journalism. However, academia does not consider Wikileaks as a valid source of information, because it is not peer reviewed before being published (Malkan, 2016;O’Loughlin, 2016;Ruby et al, 2016).
This doesn’t mean that Wikileaks does not have reliable information. For instance, there were some government files about the conflict in Afghanistan, which were released to the New York Times by Wikileaks. The documents were brought to the White House for verification and it was found that those particular files were authentic.
However, in other cases Wikileaks has shown to look more like the cover of Weekly World News (bat boy , alien invasion stories). Because of this some people doubt the legitimacy of the information itself. Although Wikileaks tries their best to ensure that the information is from verified sources, there are still those who doubt some of the information published.
What are people’s thoughts?
To get an idea of what people thought on this subject. There was a small poll conducted on the Social Gelo Facebook Account (Gelo Topics) that asked the question:
Do you feel Wikileaks is a reliable source for information? Why or Why not?
Out of the 32 respondents 92% felt that Wikileaks was more reliable than other forms of Media.
Distrust in the Main Stream Media
One of the themes that showed up was an overall distrust in mainstream media with 25% of the respondents mentioning that they trust Wikileaks more than any other media outlet. This was an interesting point because Wikileaks has actually sent their findings to be published by Le Monde, El Pais, The Guardian and Der Spiegel.The Guardian has also been known for sending some of their findings to the New York Times.
This is one way that Wikileaks can further credit their information, because it allows other professionals in the field to review it (a type of peer review if you will).
They have never had to retract an article
Many of the respondents (32%) argued that Wikileaks was a valid source because they have never had to retract an article. There was a small problem with this argument because it is a type of circular reasoning. As one of the antagonists (8%) pointed out:
“In 40 years, The National Enquirer has only had to retract two stories. That doesn’t make one (it) a reliable source of information”
Only as reliable as their sources
Although the majority of respondents trusted Wikileaks, 8% felt that the information was only as reliable as it’s source. As it was mentioned earlier in this article Wikileaks does verify the source of the information, but the accuracy of that information is another story.
Since anyone can submit any information to Wikileaks, if and when Wikileaks finds pertinent information regarding a government cover up, they will hand over the information to media sources to publish. At this point the media sources (journalists) verify the information sent. Wikileaks does not send their files on Aliens to any sources (most likely because they know the information is reliable but not valid).
Wikileaks is a database and like all databases has information available to the public. But it is up to the public to discern what information is valid. In social science this dilemma comes up in our discussions about the differences between reliability and validity (Silverman, 2016).
Researchers are not fixed on their beliefs (at least theoretically they shouldn’t be). This is why although I may have my own beliefs about Wikileaks, I let the evidence guide me to a conclusion.
To be honest, when I started this research inquiry I was more cynical about Wikileaks. After reviewing the data I have changed my mind about the validity of some of the information provided by Wikileaks. This is the difference between using the scientific method and theology.
Considering the amount of conspiracy theorists feeding on information available on the Internet, it may be wise to air to caution and always verify the validity of anything you find.
The data presented does not go without limitations. There were only 32 respondents and since statistical significance can only be established with at least 50 respondents (some argue more), the findings from this poll are interesting but not valid (irnagl, 2016).
The respondents were collected using a type of snowball sample (Facebook responses to other respondents), which is another issue because the gold standard for research is random selection (more variety of people from different backgrounds) from any given population (Patten, 2016). Therefore the results cannot be generalized to a larger population.
This was more of a qualitative study than a quantitative one (Padget, 2016).
I want to thank all my Facebook “Friends” who participated in this poll. I will be doing a podcast on this soon. Stay tuned!
Social Gelo with Angelo
Angelo Ferrer (M.S. Psychology)
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Dutton, W. H., & Reisdorf, B. C. (2016). Cultural Divides and Digital Inequalities: Attitudes Shaping Internet and Social Media Divides.
Malkan, S. (2016). Standing up for transparency. Nature biotechnology, 34(1), 23.
O'Loughlin, J. (2016). The Perils of Self-Censorship in Academic Research in a WikiLeaks World. Journal of Global Security Studies, 1(4), 337-345.
Patten, M. L. (2016). Understanding research methods: An overview of the essentials. Routledge.
Padgett, D. K. (2016). Qualitative methods in social work research (Vol. 36). Sage Publications.
Ruby, F., Goggin, G., & Keane, J. (2016). “Comparative Silence” Still? Journalism, academia, and the Five Eyes of Edward Snowden. Digital Journalism, 1-15.
Silverman, D. (Ed.). (2016). Qualitative research. Sage.
Villarroel, C., Felton, M., & Garcia-Mila, M. (2016). Arguing against confirmation bias: The effect of argumentative discourse goals on the use of disconfirming evidence in written argument. International Journal of Educational Research, 79, 167-179.
Woo, S. E., O'Boyle, E. H., & Spector, P. E. (2016). Best practices in developing, conducting, and evaluating inductive research.