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News: The Good, the Bad and the Fake
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News: The Good, the Bad and the Fake

By Maria Pearce, AIB

We all know that knowledge of the subject, context and "general knowledge" are of utmost importance to our work as interpreters.

In his last post, Fernando González wrote about the differences between low context and high-context languages, and the additional difficulties posed by the latter. So, inevitably, as interpreters, we spend a lot of our time gathering information: apart from preparing specifically for our next job, we are unfortunately forced to keep abreast with what is going on in the world.

And I say unfortunately because, for the most part, the stories we read are bad news: natural disasters, terrorist attacks, refugees drowning in the seas, trade wars... We seem to live immersed in a world of fear and uncertainty. Good news, on the other hand is hard to come by, and sometimes I wonder whether anything good ever happens.

Why is there such a flood of bad news? Apparently, bad news sells much better than good news; years ago I read an article which stated "...peoples' interest in news is much more intense when there is a perceived threat to their way of life. They care much less about what happens around them when they enjoy relative peace and/or relative prosperity."

People like reading bad news and, with positive articles being few and far between, I end up wondering whether the world actually is such a terrible place. This supposedly is the effect of precisely reading so many bad news stories. According to Steven Pinker, cognitive psychologist and linguist, "Whether or not the world really is getting worse, the nature of news will interact with the nature of cognition to make us think that it is." So the more negative inputs we receive from the world around us, the greater our feeling of gloom.

Nowadays, news is produced at breakneck speed, and comes from all kinds of sources: traditional media, social media, in fact any person in the world with access to a device can take on the role of a reporter. With an estimated 2.5 billion smart phones users for 2019, there are 2.5 billion ways of seeing and interpreting the world. News no longer spreads top-down, but rather reaches us from all angles, from friends and not-really-friends via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, just to name a few. We are swept away by a complete information whirlwind.

On top of the overwhelming flow of news, now we find that it may involve real, objective news, but also very subjective interpretations or even deliberately fake news or simply hoaxes.

It can be very hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Propaganda has always been around, as have lobbies in all sorts of shapes and sizes, but, in the past, if you had a critical eye and an analytical mind, you could for the most part, at least get a glimpse of the truth behind it. You could analyse, search for the sources, get the information straight from the horse's mouth; a photograph would serve as evidence of an event. Nowadays you even have fake videos of real people which are notoriously difficult to detect. Just watch this fascinating 7-minute Ted Talk by Supasorn Suwajanakorn to realise what we're up against.
Fake news comes in all sorts of disguises: people in far-away countries manipulating information in their own interests, paid posts on social media posing as news, or simply fake news writers who churn out loads of junk, which earns them a fortune from page views. What to believe? Who to believe?

How can we read all the news we need to read without being engulfed by a lack of faith in the human race? The key is to take a step back. Do not take things at face value, double check, there are many tools out there to help you, and above all, trust your common sense.

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