Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, January 18, 2017
More fake news, please!

There has been a lot of discussion lately about fake news, so much that politicians are now considering what to do about them. Which is pretty much doomed from the start. I don't think there is a single news outlet existing in the world in which each and every report contains only objective truth, not even scientific journals. And what exactly is fake news? A newspaper headline stating "Trump says Obama wasn't born in America" is both true (Trump said that) and fake (Obama was born in America). The same can be said about "Intelligence organizations have dossier about Trump visiting prostitutes in Russia", or "Woman claims Trump sexually assaulted her". By reporting that somebody else says something a newspaper can always claim that their report is true, even if the root of the news is fake. "Trump says X" will always be news, even if we all know that not everything Trump says is the truth.

What the discussion about fake news reveals is two major societal weaknesses: One is that news outlets are mostly copying news and doing very little investigative journalism. The other is that most news outlets don't even try to be unbiased any more. Something happens, both Fox News and the Huffington Post copy the same source, but put a very different spin on it that is designed to help their side rather than to communicate any actual truth. People don't read news to be informed, they read the news to be comforted in their existing bias and choose a news outlet that shares their bias.

If you wanted to purge the news from fake news, you would first need to agree on what the truth is. It is pretty obvious that even on the most outrageous claims there is never any agreement on that. You can't put politicians in jail for telling lies about their opponents, and you can't put journalists in jail for printing those lies. What you can do is establish a tyranny in which the word of the ruler is absolute truth and everybody disagreeing will be persecuted, but very few people in the USA actually want that.

The only way out is media competency. People need to be aware that news isn't reality, isn't truth, isn't unbiased. If you storm a pizza restaurant with an assault rifle because you read that Hilary Clinton is running a child sex operation from there, you obviously didn't have the media competency required to make even the most basic reality check on stuff you read. What we need is more fake news, until media outlets become wary of copying stuff that gets them into trouble later and start investigating the truth themselves instead of looking for it online. We need more fake news until everybody realizes that news aren't truth.

This panic over 'fake news' has another unfortunate side effect, it facilitates and justifies for some the legal and technical infrastructure for censorship.
"until media outlets become wary of copying stuff that gets them into trouble later"

When has a media outlet ever got in trouble for putting a spin on news?

This is disregarding things that are so fake it would lose a libel battle which they already do not do.
I think it's a signal to noise ratio thing. There's always been a lot of really bad media reporting, but there were also good sources that'd give you a reasonable look at what was going on. You could balance very obviously biased sources like Huffington and Fox News with better sources, like CNN, ABC, and the Washington Post.

But something happened during the last election and its aftermath. Or maybe it was there all along and was simply revealed. The better news sources just blatantly took a side and skewed their reporting in a way that's impossible to ignore. I just don't trust CNN, ABC, or the Washington Post anymore. They're not as bad as Huffington Post, but they spread lies to try to influence me and promote their own agendas.

It leaves a void. I no longer have a good touchstone I can trust.
Journalistic integrity is dead.

To be fair, I EXPECT mickey mouse web sites to have fake news. They're basically tabloids (Left or right.) and should be treated as such.

But the big names? Like CNN? Once they started down the path of bullshit, it was over.

There is no more actual journalism or honest reporting in America. But how do you fix this? You can't make it a crime to report fake news, that would be stupid and infringe on the freedom of the press. So this begs the question: Why doesn't a major news organization step up and comport themselves to the highest possible standard? You would think they'd be a shoe in for every eye and ear in America. And that is a scary question.

Here's a great post on fake news, propaganda, and how cynicism and constant talk of the MSM's bias is falling DIRECTLY for the trap set for you. An interesting perspective on what's currently going on.
In my country, the state media has mostly fake news, or, in case there's a grain of truth, they are grotesquely overloaded with bias. Using fakes to boost hype or selling out to highest bidder ain't nice, but constantly slapping propaganda in your face in disugise of news is flat out horrible. When the one feeding you shoddy fakes is not sketchy news outlets, but your own ministry of defense, you know something went wrong.
The thing is, noone ever realized that "news aren't truth". On the contraty, constant state-approved bombardment with fakes seems to completely erode critical thinking or, at best, force people to not care about anything, since everything could turn out to be fake (which probably was the goal all along).

And therein lies the rub, I expect. An honest, integrity driven journalism can only exist in a country where the state takes a fully hands off approach. Once the state says "This is the approved version, and if you know what's good for you, this is what you'll print" then you're pretty much cooked.

Of course, "Guerrilla Journalism" will pop up, but without the tools and access that only a free press can use, it will have trouble getting past the "tabloid" stage.

Now, I don't, for a second, think the US is at that point. I don't think the US government is going to CNN and telling them what they can or can't run as news. Nor do I think THEIR bosses, the powerful corporate elites that essentially run the government are clamping down on them either. I don't think they have to, I think CNN is self filtering in order to be accepted by these same elites and push their "brand" into the corporate elite zeitgeist. You don't have to have a "Hydra"-esque control apparatchik with top down directions to run the world. You just need enough of a very few top directors to decide, independently, and in their own best interests, to all go in the same direction.

Here's an example: Dish Network and DirecTV, the two satellite TV providers in the US. They essentially have identical services and split the market. Either could, without blinking, cut their prices in half and eliminate the predatory pricing practices to utterly devastate the other. Of course, that would trigger a price war... neither want that, so they stay at detente, both using the same predatory pricing schemes, the same bullshit promotions, and the same "Oh, look, those other guys suck!" ads for their own captive markets. Did they form a cabal? Probably not. They just follow their own best interest and both have the same goal, max revenue. They don't have to be in cahoots or even communicate with each other, just watch what the other is doing and adopt the "best practices" to maintain the detente.

So, I expect that if CNN "Goes rogue" and suddenly adopts a "100% integrity, all the time." approach at the expense of their bottom line, the "detente" will be broken and the other corporate elites will start looking for ways to punish the rogue element that isn't following the zeitgeist. Not because they're told to, but because it's in their best interest.

This is the "end game" of a "free market." An organically risen meta (a zeitgeist) of enlightened, powerful actors that have independently synchronized their best interests.

I don't know why, but I really like the word "zeitgeist." I'm sure I'm abusing the hell out of it here, but ... meh.
In Europe, a socialist place compared to Trumpistan, it is very often the state TV stations that have the most trustworthy news.
When a news organization reports rumor, hints at conspiracy or uses supposition such as the recent and infamous BuzzFeed/CNN debacle regarding the Trump dossier, while saying "there is serious reason to doubt the allegations", then you know journalistic integrity has taken a nose-dive. Especially when the editor-in-chief(Ben Smith) of Buzzfeed said that this is "how we see the role of reporters in 2017".


Hell, he even sent an internal memo out in 2015 where he said, and I quote, that its "entirely fair to call him a mendacious racist, as the politics team and others have reported clearly and aggressively: he's out there saying things that are false, and running an overtly anti-Muslim campaign”. He then went on to say that this was fact and not opinion. CNN has now decided not to detail the dossier claims because they are unverified. Really?

What's even more laughable is that college professors across the US are creating lists of "fake news" sites so as to steer and protect their students from "shoddy journalism". All while omitting certain sites(Slate and others) as if to enhance their credentials.

And that's the root of the problem with the current journalism scene: You no longer have news outlets that are viewed as non-partisan seekers of truth and facts. Almost every major news organization is labeled as either left-wing or right-wing. And that's a problem for everyone.

In the end I suspect that all of this will come out in the wash, and the cream of credible news agencies will rise to the top. It seems that gaming journalism isn't the only area to suffer on the social justice front.
Tobold says:
"People need to be aware that news isn't reality, isn't truth, isn't unbiased."

And then:
"In Europe, a socialist place compared to Trumpistan, it is very often the state TV stations that have the most trustworthy news."

Wait. Didn't both of the modern world wars start in Europe? How's that working for you? Now, to be fair, the US has recently been quite the instigator in world issues. But really, "Trumpistan"?

State run media should be the very definition of "biased" as no one that works there will want to bite the hand that feeds them.
There is a big step between "People need to be aware that news isn't reality, isn't truth, isn't unbiased." and "We need more fake news".

What recent medias are claiming against is not the headline "someone say something". It is when media or politics says "Something is true", while it is clearly not true. "Obama is a muslim" is wrong. "Trump want to kill all muslim" is also wrong.

I am all for being wary on all news, even from trusted source, but going in the same direct " all news are Fake" is as dangerous as the opposite. You cannot have democracy without truth, and people need to have access to proper information to make real decision - such as who to vote.
Facts are agnostic and verifiable truths that can be known. News sources often present facts in an objected fashion but that means they require comprehension and thought from the end viewer, not that they should be completely rejected and classed as no better than blatant lies that are being presented. If that happens, the lies have done their job. Facts should form opinion as opposed to opinions guiding which fact you accept.
The lies serve a 2-fold purpose
1) They encourage the people what support "their facts"
2) They encourage other people to confuse opinions (where complete truth is unknowable), with facts (which can be known).

Ultimately people have to stand up and reject lies. It is a bad day when the Press Sec can spout blatant lies about record attendance at an inauguration and it is not helped by the opposition ignoring the lie in favour of spouting their own (incredibly easy to disprove) lie about the Treasury nomination kicking a 90 year-old woman out of her house over 27cents.

In short; don't accept lies, do demand validated facts.
People always dispute facts. Facts like "there is man-made global warming" or "Russia influenced the US presidential elections" are painted as unverified/unverifiable hypotheses and dismissed. Time to read "1984" again and learn how its done.
@Tobold 1984 demonstrates the harm that can be done by redefining things so they mean what you want it to mean. It is not an acceptable standard for our news organisations and we should stand up to lies when we see them, not broadcast more until people lose all media competency and learn that ignorance is better than attempting to educate ourselves because our information sources are polluted with misinformation.

Both your examples are evidence-based conclusions and open to interpretation (although evidence shrinks the probability of them as being wrong to a tiny percentage). Facts are self-evident. That in itself will not prevent people from abusing language, probability and logic to present "facts" that forward their own agenda which is why we must demand the truth. The absolute truth may be an unobtainable goal, but it is one we must strive for, as opposed to sinking into the gutter of alt-truths, newspeak and bellyfeel.
We now even have "alternative facts" in government!
As opposed to the alternative facts that Hillary tried to get people to believe about her e-mail server mistakes?

Intellectual relativism - ah yes...the infamous domain of alternative facts. Let us create an arsenal of new words, throw them into the echo chamber of social media, and see what comes out. Turn back the clock to the 50's and remember McCarthy's redbaiting, the 60's Wallace law and order era, the 70's Nixon is not a crook era, the 80's crack babies, or the 90's Lewinsky scandal that dominated the media.

The media no longer see's democracy as an arena for debate, but rather a marketplace for intellectual relativism as both sides fight for dominance.
@NoGuff There has always been a market in relativism. This is not the first time it has been prevalent, but that doesn't mean we should accept it now. All sides are running stories that that support their views without bothering to make even the simplest of validation checks. Time spent corroborating facts has always been at a premium and now instant media channels are short-cutting the journalistic process. Respectable news organisations need to stand up, challenge lies and defend the value of proper fact checking and accountability.
That politicians lie hasn't been news for over 2,000 years. But a government aide saying that the White House press secretary is basing his press releases on "alternative facts" is news, because it is basically an admission that we are now truly in the world of post-truth politics. Facts are now dismissed as being irrelevant if they don't fit the narrative.

That is somewhat scary if you consider how the "alternative facts" on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq started a war that killed half a million people and went a long way towards causing the current problems with ISIS.
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