The battle over news and facts.

I read a Rolling Stone opinion piece today that did something that not enough opinion pieces do. It voiced concern over something that ostensibly it liked. Why did the the author voice concern over an event that he liked? Because he understands that it could easily lead to things that he did not like. Most people are extremely short-sighted and are susceptible to, in the effort of doing the “right thing,” digging themselves into holes that lead to something extremely awful.

I will link the article below, but the thesis of the article is really the subject of my post. How do we define “fake news?” What do we do to limit it? Should we stop it? Can our actions to stop it lead to the further destruction of real news? Does real news even exist?

False dichotomy is something that people are very susceptible to. Because a black and white world is easier to comprehend and deal with, people make a subconscious (or conscious) effort to simplify stuff. Sometimes this is done out of laziness, but other times it is done out of self-preservation instinct. Some things are so complicated that in order to react you have to go on incomplete information. We are still cavemen, evolutionally speaking. We are not evolved to deal primarily with complicated economic issues or international political controversies. We are designed to survive and to react and to be decisive. So, we actually have to fight our nature in order to even get close to being able to navigate these extremely complicated situations that we have created for ourselves.

So, false dichotomy is one of the most common examples of this natural instinct trying to deal with a complicated problem that absolutely doesn’t fit. for instance, it is obvious to the vast majority of rational people that InfoWars is some combination of pathological paranoia and disingenuousness. And most of us would agree that if someone is shaping their reality based on something pathologically paranoid and disingenuous, then that will lead to erroneous perceptions that will lead to “bad behavior.” So, when we see a problem, our instinct is to fix it. So what do we do to fix it? The most obvious thing that people do to limit bad things is to ban them. Parents usually jump to this course of action. “X is bad, so you are not allowed to do X anymore.” 

But with news, it’s not that simple. Especially if there are several sources of opposing fake news that cannot be agreed upon by a vast majority of society. For instance, as obvious as it is to many of you that Alex Jones is probably bad for the US, I believe that reliance on mainstream media is also extremely bad for the US. Though, due to human nature, the majority of people will likely never agree with that. What seems to be agreed upon by the majority is trusted for that reason alone. There are millions of people who believe FoxNews is centrist and fair and balanced. And there are others who do not believe CNN has a specific agenda and frames news dishonestly to pursue a specific agenda. Then, there are those who trust our government to usually tell the truth. So, people disagree on the sources of truth.

That means that our society can’t actually regulate “fake news” without a tribal competition on who gets to decide the facts. With the facts comes great power. Economic, political, social, etc. At the end of the day, a group of people who strongly disagree with millions of other people will have to decide what qualifies as reality. Is that likely to lead to a good outcome? This is why many people blame Trump’s popularity on the democrat party’s conscious effort, through their allied media corporations, to control the facts and, instead of winning debates, disqualifying certain viewpoints as “illegitimate.”

We see this sort of attitude prevalent on Twitter. Efforts to avoid the specifics of an argument and instead try and delegitimize the existence of the debate in the first place. This is a trend that has been growing steadily over the last 30 years and it will only get worse. Critical thinking is being replaced by the lessons from tribal politics. Don’t fight a fair fight, rig the fight instead.

Censorship efforts that are ostensibly there to protect people from fake news are really battles over rigging the “truth.” Just because YOU don’t see it that way doesn’t mean that the powers that be aren’t co-opting it for that purpose. And to come full circle with false dichotomy, those who judge anything outside of the mainstream media to be conspiracy or paranoid, are every bit as delusional as an Alex Jones enthusiast. The only difference is that one delusion is more “normal” than the other. 

2 thoughts on “The battle over news and facts.

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