Rumor, Outrage, and “Fake News”

coek9auvuaajigfBack when I started this blog, I had high hopes that the internet would allow people to bring together more and more information, resulting in an explosion of knowledge I referred to as the “Great Informationing.” To some extent, services like Google and Wikipedia have already started this ball rolling by essentially creating searchable databases of crowd-sourced data on a scale and at a speed never known before in human history–indeed, this blog would be much more limited in scope could I not look up at a moment’s notice almost anything I desire to learn.

In the past year, though, I have become disillusioned. While the internet does put a great deal of information at my fingertips, it also puts a great deal of misinformation at my fingertips.

Rumor flies halfway around the world before Truth has got its pants on.–variously misattributed

It’s bad enough to try to delve into subjects where I don’t speak the correct language to read most of the sources and thus can’t even begin properly searching. It’s even worse if the news I am getting isn’t reliable.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about “fake news.” I’m not sure which sites, exactly, have been promoting “fake news,” but I noticed toward the tail end of the election a seeming proliferation of websites and news sources I’d never heard of before. Clicking on these links generally led me to a site plastered with adds and images (which had a high probability of instantly crashing my computer) and headlines that looked lifted from other sources.

Since noticing this trend, I’ve tried to avoid linking to or trusting any headline that comes from a site I don’t recognize on the grounds that I have no way to confirm whether they are trustworthy, and further, I don’t like having my computer crash. The downside to this policy is that the internet is vast and I certainly do not know every respectable site out there.

I noticed some time ago that even “respectable” papers like the WaPo and NYTimes had quite a lot of one-sided or otherwise questionable reporting. Lies and more Lies were another theme that got hounded a lot in the early stages of this blog, but my focus was more on society than the media. Since reading a lot of iSteve, however, I’ve grown more sensitive to the ways media shape narratives, especially via what they chose to report and chose to remain silent on.

When you realize that there are stories the media isn’t commenting on, or is giving you a particular spin on, what do you do?

quote found on Twitter
quote found on Twitter

Look for other sources, I guess.

Last summer I noticed prominent papers printing not just mistakes or one-sided stories, but outright false statements that could only have made it into print because someone purposefully decided to make them up. (For privacy reasons I’m not going into more details, but you can probably supply your own cases.)

There are a variety of things going on with the media, but the internet, sadly, appears to be making matters worse.

borders-store-closingIt’s no secret that traditional print media has had a rough time since the information super highway started jazzing up our lives.

I remember when Borders first opened in my neighborhood. I loved that place. I’d bike over there and spend endless hours browsing the shelves, especially during the summer. I found my first anthropology books there.

And I remember when the Borders went out. The empty husk of the building is still there, unoccupied. It’s been empty for years. I wonder what on Earth is wrong with the person who owns that spot. Can’t they find someone to rent it to?

Newspapers have also suffered; with dwindling subscriptions, they’ve simultaneously cut everyone with enough expertise to demand a high salary and turned to generating click-driving content.

Familiar exploits of beloved characters are related from a respectful, prejudice-free perspective: the Emperor is no longer naked in his new clothes but “is endorsing a clothing-optional lifestyle,” Snow White escapes to the cottage of “seven vertically-challenged men,” and Goldilocks is an ambitious scientist studying anthropomorphic bears. --https://www.amazon.com/Politically-Correct-Bedtime-Stories-Garner/dp/0285640410/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480157739&sr=8-1&keywords=politically+correct+bedtime+stories
Familiar exploits of beloved characters are related from a respectful, prejudice-free perspective: the Emperor is no longer naked in his new clothes but “is endorsing a clothing-optional lifestyle,” Snow White escapes to the cottage of “seven vertically-challenged men,” and Goldilocks is an ambitious scientist studying anthropomorphic bears. (source)

When you have subscribers who actually pay for newspapers, they value thoughtful, high-quality reporting. (Otherwise, what are you spending all of that money on?) When readers are just clicking through, outrage drives the news cycle. Articles don’t even have to be about something outrageous–the article itself can be the outrageous thing, so long as people link to it and say, “OMG, can you believe they wrote this?”

Every hate click makes things worse.

The outrage machine is helping drive the SJW-fueled obsession with “identity politics,” particularly feminism, anti-racism, and LGBT issues. This isn’t the first time this style of political correctness has broken out–remember the much-mocked silliness of the late 80s? But back then, only the National Enquirer could hope to use stories about transgender elementary school kids to sell papers. Now everyone can.

It’s bad enough being the kind of person who worries about whether or not the division between “tree” and “bush” is just a social construct, or the basic unknowablity of what one doesn’t know.

But now we have to consider the effects of hate-clicks and outrage on everything we know.

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Wed Open Thread

CIA Analyst Who Interrogated Saddam Hussein Just Blew the Lid Off the US ‘Official Story’:

Writing on his book, Debriefing The President: The Interrogation Of Saddam Hussein, for the Daily Mail, Nixon offered acrid criticism regarding Bush’s leadership, saying the former president heard “only what he wanted to hear” — including that Iraq had somehow been responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001.

“Look at who was involved,” Nixon recalled the Iraqi leader telling the interrogators. “What countries did they come from? Saudi Arabia. And this [ringleader] Muhammad Atta, was he an Iraqi? No. He was Egyptian. Why do you think I was involved in the attacks?”

In fact, Nixon noted, “Saddam had actually believed 9/11 would bring Iraq and America closer because Washington would need his secular government to help fight fundamentalism. How woefully wrong he had been.”

I don’t know this website, so I can’t vouch for its veracity, and these days, everything seems a little questionable (wow that is an awfully artistically staged photo of that Russian ambassador’s assassination.)

"violent"
I think we define “violent” differently.

Of course, we know that Iraq had no WMDs to speak of and we know the country descended into chaos and anarchy and ISIS crap. We know that thousands of people died so Americans could vent their hate at *someone* who looked vaguely like their enemies.

I woke up at 9 am on 9-11 to my alarm clock radio telling me that the Twin Towers had just been hit, and honestly, my first thought was, “some poor unrelated country is going to get bombed.” I figured Iraq was highly likely.

The attack on Afghanistan I can understand, but Iraq was unjustified and I was against the war even then, including participation in anti-war protests. I did not want to see Americans or Iraqis dying.

I have no respect for the fuckers who led us into that war, and no respect for the fuckers trying to start shit with Russia now.

The grand lie of weapons of mass destruction — and Judith Miller’s utterly false reports in the New York Times suggesting stockpiles of chemical weapons — are arguably the most deadly ‘fake news’ gaffe in U.S. media history. …

Nixon emphasized it wasn’t as if Saddam Hussein were a saint, but the profound mischaracterization of the Iraqi leader had appalling consequences.

“I do not wish to imply that Saddam was innocent,” Nixon writes. “He was a ruthless dictator who plunged his region into chaos and bloodshed. But in hindsight, the thought of having an ageing and disengaged Saddam in power seems almost comforting in comparison with the wasted effort of our brave men and women in uniform and the rise of Islamic State, not to mention the £2.5 trillion spent to build a new Iraq.”

So, what do you guys think of the assassination of the Russian diplomat in Turkey? What’s going to happen? Will there be open hostilities against Turkey? Will Russia and the US team up?

spread of spoke-wheeled chariots
spread of spoke-wheeled chariots, in years ago

I also enjoyed Physical Anthropology in 1950.

Now, you guys have left so many excellent comments, it’s getting tough to look back through them all, much less pick the best. Iffen and Unknown128 have been having an interesting discussion of Russian history over on the Classics post; With The Thoughts You’d Be Thinkin left a link to a very interesting documentary/footage of first contact between whites and people living in the interior of Papua New Guinea:

Figured this might interest you, a documentary about Michael “Mick” Leahy and his brothers, gold prospectors and explorers who made first contact with the Highland tribes of Papua New Guinea in the 1930. The full documentary includes footage of the first encounters and interviews with the tribesmen and the surviving Leahy brothers decades later.

Clip:
http://aso.gov.au/titles/documentaries/first-contact/clip1/

Full:
https://youtu.be/Kvt9F0KqelM

So, do you guys think I should read Audre Lorde for next Cathedral Round-Up, to see if she is a fitting replacement for Shakespeare?