I was reading some articles and came across one that says Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke is the most controversial song of the decade due to it promoting rape culture and misogyny.

Being only 4 years into this decade, it's problematic to claim it is the most controversial since there are 7 years more of new songs coming that I'm sure one of which will trump this one. But it is quite rare for student unions to go as far as to ban it. Clearly the whole issue of gender equality and the feminists' perception of this song had been one of offence and disgust. The uncensored version of the music video certainly did not help Thicke's case, but is it really that much worse than other songs of this nature? I haven't heard of any groups protesting when Katy Perry's Last Friday Night came out which directly promotes irresponsible lifestyle to young adults including sleeping with people while drunk and maxing out your credit cards every Friday night.

Obviously, rape is a very serious issue, so I'm not saying the catchiness of the song justifies its message, intended or not, but it stirred me to think about this whole idea of perception filtering.

Mainstream journalism does its best to give us a picture of the world as it is today, but I often find that what they report is a very filtered and sensationalized version of reality. Titles like "Blurred Lines: the most controversial song of the decade" influences our pre-conception that song is controversial before we even read the article, before we learn the why or how. As if there is no other choice but to view the song as controversial.

What we don't realize is how much impact the existence of such an article can have on some people who may not have the time or skills to do further investigations than the title of a news article. Their perception of the world is based on their own life experiences, and what they read the headlines (literally just the headlines). So I think it's very irresponsible when newspapers, in paper or digital form, manipulates the presentation of information or events to make it appear more serious or real than fact.

The amount of trust people have in online news articles is also undeserved. Many times I have seen Facebook articles or posts being circulated around which, with just about 5 minutes of extra research, can be confirmed to be a hoax. Few people put in the effort to verify whether an article or block of shared information is real, and even fewer dare to tell the sharers it was a hoax. They fear offending their friends or colleagues, and wisely choose to remain quiet over stirring an argument. But when we do this, we are applying a perception filter over our friends' eyes because we chose not to provide them with the clearer picture, the truth. And this silence is exactly what promotes the continued propagation of hoaxes, and the potential un-educating of many.

I myself used to be very vocal and would quickly tell a friend or family member if something they shared was a hoax, because I believed that it should not be spread. Of course it hurt feelings, not only because I was tactless with how I confronted their well-intended sharing, but also because people dislike being told their information is wrong, or that their trust were misplaced. It sounds to them that they were wrong. So after a couple of bad engagements, I trained myself to stop rebuking people on social media shares. But I continued the research, to walk this narrower path if only for the benefit of one.

Source criticism is a really fascinating area of work. It asks "how can you be sure about the reliability of the person or institution that produced the information?" It has close ties to epistemology and historiography, both of which I am not an expert in, but basically everything we know hinges on whether it survives proper criticism.

And I hate to be the bad guy on this, but I would argue that the way mainstream journalism works doesn't make it a reliable source. Most of the time news websites simply draw information and reports from the Associated Press (usually abbreviated as AP at bottom of articles), which sounds like a giant orgnaization with well thought out processes to verify their information, but in fact is just individual journalists that pin their individual reports on a billboard for all participating news outlets to see and use. From time to time these journalists do get caught fabricating information to either make people pay more attention to a topic or issue, or for personal career advancements, but these failures themselves rarely show up in a news article, as it would undermine public trust in the Associated Press. And of course, they only give you what they think you want to see for profit margin reasons (mostly).

At times like this when I lose faith in the trustworthiness of information on newspaper, I can take comfort that we do have some things we can be sure of: what is happening to our friends. Or can we?

I find increasingly that Facebook is an even greater perception filter we impose on our friends and ourselves because we don't report everything happening in our lives; only the bits that we feel is important or is important to others. For me, this means that one friend may appear extremely social and have a very 'happening' life according Facebook, but in reality they are no different than the friend who hasn't posted anything in 6 months (or doesn't even have a Facebook account).

We seldom document experiences that are average, normal, expected. However we are compelled to record any exciting or special experiences, be it good or bad. So when our future generations look back on our lives through our medium of recording, be it Facebook or a physical photo album, our lives may appear a lot more dramatic than what we actually experienced. Coupled with the effect of nostalgia, our perception of our friends' and our own past may be amplified such that everything seemed a lot more profound than it really was.

For me, the experience I remember the most from my primary school days was being bullied or discriminated against. Because being called names and being the last the person picked for sports teams were more emotionally scarring than failing a maths test, my brain tells me that this happened all the time when I was young. But if I really tried to think about it beyond the several serious incidents, I wasn't actually bullied all the time. I have had days where nobody called me names or teased my bad English. I had days where perhaps I wasn't the last one picked for a soccer team. Some days I wasn't being rejected. Some days I was just being. It is my perception filter that only allows me to remember the bad things that happened, and so I have to put in more effort to find a good memory, of which there were actually not that few.

I wonder if this is also the case for history. We always talk about how horrible it must have been back in the days when there was the plague, or slavery, or the great depression. Sure, relative to how much better the world is now, I'd never want to live in those eras, and I am very glad society as a whole is pushing for more equal treatment of people and their rights. But I have my suspicions that for those who were in one of these minority groups, because that was the social norm, they didn't feel especially mistreated either. It is only after society realized what we could have had that the group as a whole retroactively intensified the severity of oppression and marginalization that they felt, when perhaps only a subset had real, serious difficulties living a satisfying life. It is kind of like how kids nowadays cannot imagine how people communicated and worked before mobile phones or the Internet existed, seeing it as some kind of dark age where nothing could be done and that life must have really sucked. But I think writing and mailing a physical love letter would have been as fulfilling and satisfying as texting your girlfriend every waking minute.

Many people today who are the strongest or most vocal advocates for various rights and freedoms were probably not alive back when those group were most denied it, so they could only inherit the information and emotions that were recorded by the most marginalized of the time. It isn't a representative sample of what it really was like, but society has self-imposed a perception filter to only see the extremes. History is written by the victors, but even more by the losers. The giant percentage of people in between, the neutrals, the average, they don't care enough to make a big deal about their lives, and so comparatively few of their accounts are recorded. They are the unrepresented majority, the bigger presence in history, but also the most forgotten.

We place perception filters on our past, because we want to see that our lives were substantial, that our pains and hurts were real, and that we have grown and improved in a positive way, and that our future is a bright one. Or if your life has been very good, perhaps you have amplified the good experiences and forgotten the bad ones. The only times we realize we might are all a bit delusional is when the opposite extremes clash, and our perception filters give us very different versions of the same reality. So to paraphrase the first verse of Thicke's song (out of context):

If we can't hear what we're trying to say
If we can't read from the same page
Maybe we're going deaf,
Maybe we're going blind
Maybe we're out of our minds