We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
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Wednesday, May 3. 2017
So who gets to make the decision about what is truly 'fake news'? I know it when I see it, and every individual should have that right to decide. As I tell my friends, I apply Occam's Razor to everything I see and read. If it doesn't look or smell right, then it's probably fake and more digging needs to be done. Few people take the time or effort, anymore. So our government wants to do it for us. The politicians, at least, want to promote the concept that someone should be doing it for us. So guess what? They are. It's my view that Google's announcement last week to use algorithms to flesh out 'fake news' is going to be their Waterloo. Algorithms can't tell people what to read, what to believe, and can't discern truth from falsehood. All algorithms can do is push an agenda from those controlling the algorithm. So we'll be spoon fed pablum as real news seekers are cast aside as non-traditional sources or 'extremist' or having some other epithet applied to lower their score on the algorithm.
We may not have a Ministry of Truth, but lots of countries are trying to. If progress and opportunity slow and die in the coming years, the 'fake news' reaction will be why. After all, one clear case of how this is a problem is Man-Made ManBearPig Global Warming/Climate Change. Any site posting legitimate data and information which rebuts the Global Warming/Climate Change agenda will undoubtedly be labelled 'fake news'. From this point forward, any other opinion deemed 'incorrect' will fail the test and we can see where this algorithm will deprive people of good information.
When I was growing up, and learning to think for myself (a skill underutilized by politicians, and less so by millenials), I was taught methods to sniff out 'fake news'. It's nothing new, after all. Thomas Jefferson used it to devastating effect. Orson Welles used it for entertainment purposes, and created a whole line of subject matter for journalists to consider while engaging their craft. A war was justified on the basis of fake news generated by the entity which now is concerned about it - government and politicians. Have we forgotten the Gulf of Tonkin? Hillary Clinton, herself, is now spreading fake news about what she perceived was fake news. In other words, the worst offenders are the people who are telling us it's a problem. Politicians. So why are private firms taking steps, and what has caused this furor over something we've dealt with for years? As I've pointed out, fake news is not new, and it's always been pervasive. Urban myths and legends are no more plentiful today than when I was a kid learning about spiders in beehive hairdos.
What's driving it is the ire of the Left over Hillary's loss. Hillary's supporters look at the mainstream media, and realize it failed her. Why did it fail her? My guess is, as traditional sources of news have matured, and become more focused on increasing their earnings, they've sought new ways to make a buck. That means cost-cutting, and usually in areas where 'real news' gets done. Fact-checking, providing balanced viewpoints, investigative reporting (real investigative reporting, not determining how Beyonce chose her dress for the Oscars, or reporters digging for dirt on politicians they hate, rather than investigating viable topics worthy of discussion or debate). Traditional news media has come to rely on four sources of 'news',and isn't interested in real investigative reporting. After all, a good investigative journalist would've realized Hillary should be in jail because her email server. Careful wording by Comey saved her. So what passes for 'real news' these days?
Press releases dominate, for one, and Hillary realized this. A politician or company issues a press release, and the news will pick it up and run with it as 'news'. This is standard procedure now. Press releases are used in advertising to a very large degree. If done properly, you get tons of free press. It works equally well for politicians, if an event is staged well enough.
Another source is comedy. After all, who better to tell us how to think and act than a comedian with his own show? These people live everyday lives and have the same trials and tribulations as farmers, blue collar workers and even people like me, the ordinary office schlub. I love having John Oliver tell me my outlook on life is wrong because he's so much smarter than me. Stephen Colbert's faux-conservatism really is so informed and hilarious (it would serve him right if his homophobia costs him his job). Trevor Noah's South African roots give him so much more insight into...well, everything. Nevermind the ignorance they exhibit in their attempts to draw laughter, because it's about the story they tell to get the laughs. Getting a laugh is news.
Another source is opinion. Maggie's is, by and large, an opinion and information site. We're not a news site, and we don't pretend to be. News plays a big role in what we do, and how we craft our opinions, but we're not presenting everything as news. No news outlet can do this, in reality. It's almost impossible to remove opinion from news. However, a true news provider can present balanced viewpoints. Almost none do, now. News, today, is less about telling you that the Department of Education needs some kind of reform and outlining potential methods or providing background on why this is the case. Today, news is telling you that Betsy DeVos is evil, that reforming or cutting back the Department of Education is wrong, and that we should be spending more on that department in order to fix a problem which has already been determined to not be related to money. Opinion has gotten so bad, bias has even infiltrated sports news reporting.
A final source is user generated content. The disastrous PR for United Airlines removing David Dao is the most recent example. However, on the news this morning I saw an iPhone video of a small plane crashing (nobody was hurt, thankfully). Every day, the local news outlet spends five minutes showing the 'top viral videos', most of which are fluff pieces and not really news at all (is this fake news?). It was clear to me, as far back as 2007, when Cory Lidle's plane crashed into an apartment building in NYC, and the video was all provided by cell phone video, that news was changing forever. I hoped this would be a positive thing - being able to generate more points of view and opportunity to witness and experience events. It has, instead, turned into a social event for traditional news providers. Fluff sells as well as sensationalism. Cheap and cheerful. That's what one of my professors used to tell us was a recipe for success in media.
Traditional news sources (CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, MSNBC, Christian Science Monitor, The Economist, ABC) have all become sources of fake news. Even The Economist, which I once held in high regard, has slipped badly. It is for this reason, I believe algorithms, and the Google approach to 'fixing' a problem which does not exist in any meaningful way, will fail and people will revolt. The assumption is "trusted news sources" provide more value than...the Drudge Report or Wikileaks (both of which do more good investigative reporting than any other news source).
I noticed changes in the Google and Facebook feeds during the election. Friends at both organizations said I was imagining things, because no changes were made to algorithms. I can't believe this. The shift was obvious. The plethora of pro-Hillary and anti-Trump 'news' was overwhelming. I didn't vote for either, and algorithms are supposed to account for your personal behavior. I noticed there was no accounting for my preferences, but rather an agenda being pushed.
The truth is be wary, and be skeptical. While friends tend to scoff at my skepticism, it's served me very well. I'm not always correct, but nobody is. Skepticism has kept me from falling into a trap of frequently sharing false news stories. I've avoided being sucked in by agenda-setting. Too many of my friends fall for the standard hook of mainstream media: If it's somehow promoting right-wing values, it must be bad. If it's promoting individualism, or free markets, then it's 'extremist'. But if it promotes more government, more oversight, more regulation, and stands for 'the common good' - well, then clearly it's a real story and worthy of discussion.
Ultimately, determining what is or isn't 'fake news' requires having a 'skin in the game'. When you're in the game, you have a better perspective about what is really going on. Which is why politics is the ripest field for 'fake news' and its biggest source. Virtually everyone has a role in society, is affected by laws and regulations and therefore has a skin in the political game. However, despite having a skin in it, most citizens are woefully uninformed or misinformed about the proper and traditional role of government - especially as it applies under our Constitution. It's also why, from my perspective, the best solution is to simply reduce government's role in our lives.
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Spot on. All of these people telling us what to think and who to believe are still flipping out and trying to rationalize some irrational reason how Trump got elected. My theory is the number of people sick and tired of being told what to think, who to believe, who is your friend and who is your enemy finally reached a critical mass and went in and pulled the lever (filled the dot in, actually but I find the thought of pulling a lever much more masculine) for Trump just to tell the mainstream, intellectual, "you dumb hicks need to let us smart people think for you" crowd to stick it up their ass. And we are going to do it again, by God, because we are thoroughly enjoying watching your convulsions.
"Fake News" used to be called propaganda. "Fake News" is often not fake in the traditional sense but rather a manipulative narrative contrived to sway public opinion. Propaganda has always been with us, but the bigger issue is "repressed news." which is more sinister. Valuable information needing to be heard by the public is being thwarted. Climate Change is an excellent example of a concerted effort to prevent the public from knowing that the "science is far from settled."
The press's role was to protect citizens from government, not government from citizens.
The task for an upcoming generation is to learn how to filter out propaganda in the age of the internet.
There is a new criminal on the block, and that is the bureaucratic criminal who has learned to game the system for personal or ideological gain.
Democracies need good reliable, trustworthy information to make wise decisions. Ironically those very people engaged in fake news are part of the very society they are coersing. They will also suffer the consequences of their actions.
I happen to think 'fake news' is much more than propaganda. But because it is more than that, I will not seek to call for its end or desire to censor it.
An example - I recently shared a video of a man who jumped 25,000 feet into a 28X28 net and survived. It was well publicized, and it was quite an incredible feat.
Thing is, I shared a video which I didn't watch until the end, I merely did a search on Google, and took the first video it recommended, even though I specified the event.
My friend replied "that's fake." We went back and forth on the topic until I watched the full video, in which the skydiver finishes by passing through a small aperture on the roof of a building and landing on a trampoline. Clearly, this finish had been doctored.
I found the right one and shared it with him.
But the doctored one was SO POPULAR it was ranked higher than the real event!
This is the essential failure of the algorithm as final arbiter of information. And there is no way to fix that failure without endangering other, very real, information.
What happens when the algorithm managers decide that you can't read anything more from useful sources like Cato, because they oppose anthropogenic climate change? Because after all, we're told that is 97% supported by science and the 'science is settled' when it is far from settled.
Compare that to the same (actually very real) 97% of studies which indicate GMOs are safe. Many of the same people saying "believe the science" on global warming are the same people saying they are being lied to about GMOs.
Where does the algorithm fix this problem?
It can't. All it can do is promote an agenda. And that will be where it fails.
As you point out, the only way to fight fake news is via discussion - as I did with my friend regarding the video - and having ALL SOURCES of information available, regardless of how mind-numbingly problematic it is.
Phil Taylor: "Fake News" used to be called propaganda.
"Fake news is a type of yellow journalism that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes"
"Propaganda is 'information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view'."
Example of fake news, which may have helped Trump in battleground states:
"Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president"
Yeah, everyone talked about that for months. It dominated the election and probably swung several key states. Everyone believed it, and no one could stop talking about it. I predict 2016 will go down in history as The US Election That Was Decided By Misquoting a Pope.
Assistant Village Idiot: Yeah, everyone talked about that for months. It dominated the election and probably swung several key states.
The story first arose in July of 2016, but was still being actively shared in November, meaning thousands of people were disseminating the falsehood, either because they believed it to be true, or because they were cynically trying to manipulate people.
Remember that heavily Catholic battlegrounds states were often decided by less than 1%. Many people had concerns about Trump, but if the Pope says it's okay, at least a few Catholics would have been reassured about him.
So, yes. Fake news was a factor in the election. Some of the fake news, we now know, was put out by Russian operatives. We also know the Russians were engaged in hacking against a major U.S. political party, then released the hacks in order to damage the party's candidate.
Don't underestimate the number of people who want to be told how to think.
I mean that's mostly why I read the blogs that I do ;-)
Then you're reading the wrong ones. ;)
Let me show you what you should be reading. LOL
Have a great day...
If this is not some plan, it is just sad, especially for all the so-called educated who are on the "fake news" bandwagon.
The way you deal with fake news is by having open and vigorous debate over any and all ideas. As children grow up in such an environment, they develop their critical sense and judgement. Historically, as religion, clan, region, etc., had an interest in limiting questioning and open debate, universities were places where young people could experience an open dialogue environment. Debate was sport with any an all positions taken just to exercise them.
Well, we know how that is going on campus these days.
Sadly, in the 20th century, the educated strata have proven to be the most gullible and susceptible to charlatans.
The fading of the critical sense is a serious menace to the preservation of our civilization. It makes it easy for quacks to fool the people. It is remarkable that the educated strata are more gullible than the less educated. The most enthusiastic supporters of Marxism, Nazism, and Fascism were the intellectuals, not the boors. The intellectuals were never keen enough to see the manifest contradictions of their creeds. It did not in the least impair the popularity of Fascism that Mussolini in the same speech praised the Italians as the representatives of the oldest Western civilization and as the youngest among the civilized nations. No German nationalist minded it when dark-haired Hitler, corpulent Goering, and lame Goebbels were praised as the shining representatives of the tall, slim, fair-haired, heroic Aryan master race. Is it not amazing that many millions of non-Russians are firmly convinced that the Soviet regime is democratic, even more democratic than America?
von Mises, Ludwig (1945). Bureaucracy
von Mises, Hayek and Schumpeter all warned us about how the benefits of capital and free markets would decline. Each had a slightly different tale, but the essence is the same. Politics, driven by those who deem themselves "better" than others, would undermine the system. In some cases, corporations would be the driving force to create monopolies and engage rent-seeking. In another vein, academia would play a role, spreading false and dangerous ideas. Democracy itself, often heralded as a 'civilizing force' when it is anything but, would play the role of destroying the market as voters voted themselves other peoples' money, egged on by psychopathic and power-hungry political operatives.
The triumph of "Fake News" has largely been achieved in the hard-print media, at least where I live. With economic conditions being so bad the last 8 years, our local newspapers have folded until there is now only one (there used to be two competing dailies and an legitimate "independent" weekly). Since they can't afford to hire any real reporters, 80% of the "news" in the remaining paper is just filler reprint articles from NYT, WaPo, AP and Reuters. Ditto for the editorial page, they just copy editorial stuff out of the NYT or WaPo. Not only is it all the same politically correct nonsense, but much of the time they don't date their stories and some filler stories can be weeks old by the time they are run in the make it into our local paper.
The result is very few people even bother to read the local paper any more, except for the sports or food sections.
It is creative content with contextualized concepts. Many people want thirty second sound bites, spoken, not written. They will trade facts for convenience.
>>there are examples of stuff that is clearly fake, but applying a definition to what it is? Unavailable.
Instead of "applying", I think you mean discerning or discovering
>>Google's announcement last week to use algorithms to flesh out 'fake news' is going to be their Waterloo.
Instead of "flesh out," I think you mean eliminate or remove. To "flesh out" something, usually an idea or concept, is to make it MORE fully manifest, not less
There's unreliable news, biased and shoddy and so on, that you can find anywhere, including the New York Times. There's also flat-out lying news, often circulated on the internet. I have friends who are always posting nonsense on Facebook that takes me about 30 seconds to establish as balderdash. Often it's a simple as freaking out over a lurid story that "the media isn't covering," mostly because it happened two years ago and they didn't notice back then, when it got moderate and fairly appropriate coverage. The other common form is an amazing quotation from a public figure--you can almost count on those being made up. This isn't shoddy reporting, it's just old-fashioned click-bait.
Great essay Bulldog. I completely agree and your description of who you are and how you approach new information describes me as well.
I used to think there were more people like us - who are open to new information but also use skepticism as a tool, plus their own brains and experience and natural b.s. detectors, to avoid being taken for a ride - but the last several years have taught me otherwise. I've come to agree with peacelovewoodstock above: "Don't underestimate the number of people who want to be told how to think."
And what a sad state of affairs that is. Especially the millennials - that group seems headed for disaster.
"What's driving it is the ire of the Left over Hillary's loss. Hillary's supporters look at the mainstream media, and realize it failed her."
They've been told, and they believed, that they were on the "right side of history." They have the feeling they've been lied to, and they can't quite figure it out. It really bothers them.
Let me join in saying right on.
We have arrived at the great intersection of the Yahoo News culture and the Jonathan Gruber elites. One makes you stupid and the other assumes it. You pick. It's circular.
Good news is the more the circle turns, the more ineffective it becomes. The point about Google's Waterloo is particularly prescient. The reason is that anyone who tries to run their life on the pablum that comes from the Idiot Box, daily fish wrappers, or their Herr Professors faces certain and swift disappointment.
Can't predict all the other stupidities that will visit humanity tomorrow, but I'm actually optimistic that we're pretty close to peak media. Thank you Stephen Colbert and Google for offering to get us over the top!