“May have been the losing side. Still not convinced it was the wrong one.”

"This report is maybe 12-years-old. Parliament buried it, and it stayed buried till River dug it up. This is what they feared she knew. And they were right to fear because there's a whole universe of folk who are gonna know it, too. They're gonna see it. Somebody has to speak for these people. You all got on this boat for different reasons, but you all come to the same place. So now I'm asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything I know this, they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, 10, they'll swing back to the belief that they can make people . . . better. And I do not hold to that. So no more running. I aim to misbehave." ~ Captain Malcom Reynolds

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The "Fake News" Label

Following the recent election one of the terms being tossed about by both sides was "Fake News" - the implication being that deliberately false information portrayed as true had caused an undue influence in one direction or the other. Left and right were both quick to toss this new label at the other's media and online sources, with even the President getting involved. Facebook and other sites were quick to trumpet their stand against "false information", only to be called out on their own biases and revenue streams driving the problem as well.

Something about the whole term bugged me from the start though - based on a mixture of cynicism, intelligence analysis and common sense I suppose.

First off, it doesn't pass the "smell test" in terms of conspiracy theories or other realistic issues. I'm not saying there aren't sites and individuals propogating false or deliberately slanted information for political, social or other purposes - that's a trick as old as mankind and social interaction, the Internet just makes it easier. But the concept of a vast right or left-wing machination only suddenly coming to light in this fashion doesn't work with the facts being presented.

Because the echo chamber issue is the second part of the equation, and again, both sides of the equation are suffering from it. People are tribal by nature, and tend to primarily associate with, and gather data from, those they view as "in their tribe" - be it by blood, religion, politics, or whatever. So, when Facebook, ABC, MSNBC, and Snopes all agree to "fact check" each other, all that happens is they reinforce their own biases and outlook, and filter out the information they don't agree with. The same happens if you get Drudge, Fox and others on the right doing the same. Then the issue just becomes who can shout their message the loudest, because people are only going to actually hear the information which reinforces their own beliefs, and conciously or not will dismiss that which doesn't.

Note, I am speaking of humans as a whole here, and include myself as subject to the same psychological flaws.

Of course, it is slightly ironic that much of the rise in alternative (and potentially "fake") news stories has come from the growing public distrust of the mainstream media, and lack of any effort to hide their bias or slanted reporting over the past two decades. Much like an abusive husband who wonders why his wife might up and leave him for another man, the conglomorates are stunned that viewers and readers have abandoned them in droves, and that the "Fourth Estate" no longer is viewed as a required information filter for the average person.

Coming back to the term "fake news", I had a realization today what it was that bothered me about it, yet how perfect of a social tool it is. Calling something "fake news" is a linguistic kill shot as Scott Adams would use the term. It is a powerful persuasive tool, because you can't disprove a negative as it were. Calling something "fake news" is like throwing dog poo on the subject - no matter how strenuously one can argue and attempt to prove otherwise, you can't clean it enough for people to really trust. Much like the old joke of "Senator, have you stopped beating your wife?" no answer will effecitvely remove every hint of doubt.

Apparently I'm not the only one having these thoughts, as my daily readings are uncovering. Another article here puts it succinctly, and outlines what I also agree is our best hope of addressing the issues - broadening your views. Let's step outside of our echo chambers now and then and see what we might learn.

1 comment:

Old NFO said...

Well said! I try to spread my news reading around, mainly to see what the other side is saying... sigh