At U of T, we had a front row seat to the hundreds of protesters that came to Queen’s Park recently to protest public health measures against COVID-19. The juxtaposition between the best school in Canada and the masses that occupied the park many of us walk through was, at best, amusing. It is easy to feel superior in our intellect when we hear about the blatant misinformation being spread in our streets — it feels far away from a world that demands ‘at least three peer reviewed sources.’ However, even at U of T, there is vast disagreement between people over what constitutes a fact.
The Varsity wants to be representative of the entire student body. It wants to be a method of amplification for all voices here. Regardless, our comments sections seem to reflect the increasing chasm of understanding between political viewpoints that we see in the outside media as well. Our recent Arts & Culture article commenting on the misinformation Joe Rogan’s podcast spreads attracted more comments than most of our articles. Notably, none of the commenters were arguing that the podcast did not encourage anti-vax sentiment through misinformation. Instead, their content focused on nitpicking the details of the article, criticizing the usage of the word ‘problematic,’ and declaring it to be a meaningless overused word. This comment attracted the highest number of reactions, all positive, and received more engagement than the article itself.
To me, this shows that there is a kind of animosity between left-wing and right-wing members of the student body. The Varsity wants to be an asset for all of the people it represents, but clearly some people see it as biased and thus only engage in ways that do not aim to change the paper, only criticize it.
The paper has tried to include more right-wing and diverse viewpoints. They have tried to ensure that their perspectives are fair and balanced in a way that really gives all relevant viewpoints equal space. But, according to The Varsity Managing Editor Tahmeed Shafiq, those articles have sometimes been cut in the past if they were not backed up with sufficient evidence. Publishing these articles without sources that support it would create a false balance. A false balance is when an argument is presented to be equally as strong as its counter, despite it lacking equal evidence. If The Varsity created a false balance it would hurt its own journalistic integrity. Thus, while it might try to include more viewpoints with the hopes of engaging more of our community in a positive way, it is difficult to do so in many cases.
Still, news is about encouraging and cultivating the minds of the community it represents. Confirmation bias is strong and our first impressions and beliefs on an issue persevere. Often, people are uninterested in engaging with something they believe to be oppositional to their worldview. This is not necessarily because they want to stick their head in the sand. It is because that is how humans are made to think. This tendency of humans to seek out supporting evidence for our beliefs and ignore everything else unconsciously is working against The Varsity in its attempts to engage everyone and form a stronger understanding. However, despite their desires to work toward a stronger community, it cannot ethically equate beliefs that are not equally supported. Instead, we have to keep looking for ways to engage, meet with understanding, and build trust. But that will take time and it is an issue far bigger than U of T, no matter how close it is in proximity.
Emory Claire Mitchell is the public editor at The Varsity and can be reached at [email protected].