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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

We've Always Had Fake News

Much of what we need to know about the media was already published in the book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy Of The Mass Media (click here for a link to the book). This book by Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky gave a good account of how the mainstream media not only gives fake news, but in how it is bent on controlling our opinions. The fake news that came from the mainstream media as cited in that book was found not in the tabloid stories we read on the web, but in the over and under/un reporting of whole stories from the world. The purpose of the fake news back then was more directed toward the economic gain of the corporate owners of the media and the political gain of those in power.

When I taught, I often asked colleagues from other nations what they thought of our media. The response was consistent if not unanimous; our media hides much from the American public. Thus, in my introductory Information Technology classes, one of my class exercises was to have my students report on stories about the US that came from other nations. Why was that appropriate for those students to do so? It was because Information Technology has produced an even smaller world than our fastest modes of transportation have. Thus, once employed these students could very likely be working with colleagues from other nations who have been exposed to different views of the US than my own students have and vice-versa.

Today, we have a greater variety of fake news than before. Part of this is due to the worldwide web with its blogs and journalistic sites. That is not to say that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. In fact, we should not even drain the bathwater. Rather, we need to read what the different blogs, predominantly fake news sites, and real journalistic sites with caution so that we can learn how to educate ourselves rather than be infused with the inflammatory convictions of others. And what we should note here is that fake news sites come in all ideological flavors: conservative, liberal, and leftist. What these sites have in common is the intent of controlling its audience by stoking fear and fueling hatred of others while canonizing one's own group or portraying it as a potential martyr.

Thus, a strong indicator of fake news stories is the presence of an overly simplified world where the actors are portrayed in black-white terms. For in such a world, there are only two groups of people: those who are good and those who are evil. And those who are good have nothing in common with those who are evil and they are being threatened by those who are evil. A strong indicator of real reporting is one where most, if not all, of the players are complicated in the sense that they are a combination of good and bad. For isn't that how at least most of us have lived our own lives? We have done good to some while we have wronged others.

In terms of the articles themselves, one way of detecting fake news is by noticing the title of the article and how it either overstates or completely misrepresents the contents of the article. This is usually done to defame the character of some opposing person or group. We should note here that titles of articles are basically one sentence summaries. And in a world where we have information overload, the title of any article can have a greater impact on what we remember than the article itself.

Another way of spotting a fake news story is one that cherry picks the information. All that means is that it reports information that favors the biases or ideologies espoused by the source of the articles and neglects to report information that contradicts those same biases or ideologies. This is similar to when the mainstream media either over or under/un reports on a whole story only here, we see important parts of a story either present or absent.


Still another way of spotting a fake news story is to look in the mirror before reading? Why? Because if we have demonized some group or believe that our own group has everything to teach and nothing to learn, we will be all too eager to believe the worst about our opponents while remaining in denial about ourselves. This is as true for conservatives as it is for liberals and leftists.

The truth that we may not want to face is that, for the rest of our lives, we will be living in a world with all kinds of conservatives, liberals, and leftists. And unless we believe that we must conquer the rest, we have to come to grips with how we will share society and the world with others. Here we should note that all groups, just like all individuals, are mixed bags. All groups have both good ideas and bad ideas. All groups have both noble intentions and not so noble intentions. And I say all of this as a leftist who believes in Socialism as a practice. But I also say this as a former conservative.

Like I wrote, we've always had fake news. The difference between the fake news of the past and that of the present is that we become greater participants in its writing and spreading. And how much we can abstain from contributing to the spread of fake news depends on how observant we will be about the stories that come our way as well as how self-aware we become of our own weaknesses and faults.


 




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