Russian influence, "fake news," and the news media..... who is really to blame?
As we are now starting to blame Russia and the fake news out there for the election loss, I think it's important to keep some things in mind about this...
For most of our history, we would only get our news in the newspapers each morning or the newscasts at 6:00 when we got home from work. Those were the old days of journalism some old timers here probably remember. And most people back then at least had some belief in the media. And most of these journalists took pride in investigating and getting to the truth, at least for the most part. But it's unlikely that everything written in the papers was true and accurate.
Fake news isn't a new phenomenon. It goes back in our country to the Revolution. Benjamin Franklin wasn't always loyal to the the truth in stories he ran. Neither were other writers. Even way back then, governments knew the power of information. In fact, one of the reasons the founders didn't like the idea of a popular vote for President is because they feared the people would be too easily swayed by such information!
(See more here if you are interested in Franklin's use of information propaganda... it's interesting history)
But now, technology has given us information overload. We have instant and infinite communication literally at our fingertips. So much information is flooding into our lives that we can no longer "fact-check" it all. We have multiple 24-hour news networks. We don't just talk to our neighbors about politics anymore, we are now on the internet and talking about the issues with each other even though we may be thousands of miles away. We can pick up our smartphone even in the middle of the night and read articles and blogs on any website from Mother Jones to Daily Kos to DemocraticUnderground, to CNN to Russia Today to Breitbart. Journalists and entire news networks are now openly displaying biases. We don't trust the mainstream media anymore. We don't know who or what to believe anymore. And we are vulnerable to confirmation bias due to our infinite choices. When someone in the media says something we don't like, whether it is the truth or not, we can always go somewhere else that spews the "truth" we want to hear.
So what is the solution to this? Of course the opposite of this problem is "1984" where the Ministry of Truth is telling us about how we are winning the endless war against Eurasia. One only has to look at state-controlled media in China, North Korea, or Russia to see the problem with that idea. Control of information is at the heart of practically every dystopian story ever written. So government being the final arbiter of fact and fiction is certainly not the solution to this problem. However, it seems to be the way Angela Merkel in Germany wants to go. She is now calling for some internet censorship especially on social media in order to get rid of the "fake news." After Trump's win, she is now afraid of it interfering in their elections next year potentially giving rise to something far more scary.
But censorship isn't a solution for America, anyway. We have a first amendment. We have freedom of speech and freedom of the press. So we can't go down that road even if we wanted to.
Ultimately....when you live in a free country, and especially if you are a voter in such a country, you have an obligation to understand the issues and understand what's going on. Issues and information should be approached with a reasonable, open, and scientific mind. Most Americans today on all sides are too lazy for this. Most prefer to be told how to think than to actually do the work. I worry at the fact 1/3rd of high school seniors can't tell you who won the Civil War. I worry that we know more about the Kardashians than we do our own leaders who make real decisions every day that impact our lives. We blame Vladimir Putin for influencing our election and Mark Zuckerburg for not censoring our news for us on Facebook. But who's really to blame for this? Who's being lazy?
Just something to ponder....
the existence of a phenomenon called confirmation bias. People want to read things that reinforce what they already believe so they seek out sources that give them what they want. In the olden days your town probably had one newspaper (and maybe there was a morning edition and an evening one - I remember that from the early '60s), local news broadcasts in the evening from maybe three stations, followed by a half-hour national news broadcast - Walter Cronkite or the Huntley-Brinkely report. Then there was the late evening local news. The Iran hostage crisis in 1979 created another news show, Nightline. In those days news sources were limited to these, making it difficult for people to choose only those they agreed with. And both print and broadcast media were willing to fund news reporting.
CNN appeared in the 80s and really took off during the first Gulf War, and was soon followed by other cable stations, notably FOX. Reagan eliminated the fairness doctrine in the 80s, and news programs, especially cable and most especially FOX, started picking political sides. Then along came the internet, which made it easy to filter out information people didn't agree with; fake news was the inevitable results. Interestingly, one purveyor of fake news said it was much easier to sell it to right-wingers, who ate it up without ever bothering to confirm even the most absurd stories, while liberals wouldn't bite nearly as easily.
But even so, it's the human tendency toward confirmation bias that has made fake news a big thing.
and they act like both sides are equal even if one is totally lying about something.
at least before they would just report and when they did have people on it was usually those who had some background knowledge and expertise .
now they give WAYYYY too much attention to the undecided idiots . instead of reporting on the issues and informing the public they just get some random dumbasses and ask them some questions . and that completes their "news reporting".
We had a shortish period of fairly excellent journalism and there are still good journalists out there. I think the danger in all this media hate is that it hurts publications that are actually doing good work. Trump and Co would love nothing better than for media institutions to fail in the pursuit of holding officials to account. In Russia, they've given up on that, now we're hearing we're in a "post truth" society. Pick the story and myth you want to believe in and defend it - it's anti-intellectual and provides the perfect breeding ground for dictatorship.
There's also some confusion about what exactly comprises the media and how to treat with information we receive - Media is an eco-system of different entities - all spanning the ideological spectrum, or suiting specific purposes - entertainment, hard news, political and non-political with accompanying op eds, pop media, satire, and *fringe*. As mainstream media ( from traditional news outlets to cable news media) struggle to remain relevant, they now have to contend with fierce competition from all these other "entitles". To compete, news corporations find a niche market and caters to that audience. Viewers and readers can be assured that they will be satisfied, their views of the world un-challenged. Networks/ blogs/ news publications have to make sure they don't lose their customers, because what keeps these "entities" alive is profit . Best way to profit is to do telemetric ( for want of a better word) tests into what viewers and readers want, headlines are sensationalised to keep us all hooked, in turn cable news networks prioritizes the stories they know will tap into the fears and biases of their audience, so a profitable feedback loop is established . Unfortunately this results in a skewed version of reality, and that's the danger. Info can be manipulated to create fear, doubt and hate - nothing surprising there, but with the internet, this becomes viral.
In an era of increased demands for transparency,there's increased skepticism, and doubt about status quo narratives and doubt about our institutions. There's the sense that dissemination of information is controlled to suit moneyed interests and the "elite". Controlling how information is par for the course, and doesn't mean the way the info is framed is inaccurate, but that's certainly how many will receive it - and because of this doubt, fringe media finds its own niche market. The doubting Thomases and Janes who want "The real story" will flock to fringe sites- and of course these fringe sites also have to make money and engage in the same manipulation as main stream media occasionally.
These trends will never go away but there are things citizens can do. A lot of us just don't understand how our government works, or how decisions at the local level or even state level impact our lives. We don't get the limits or even over reach ( in some cases) of federal government or the limits of presidential power. We also don't understand power period, and those who do understand power run circles around us . We have been eliminated from the business of politics because of our own apathy, and now politics is controlled by the professionals who are all part of the media profit machine - the pundits, the surrogates, the moneyed interests and the researchers. And instead of this noise motivating us to engage with politics, we lose interest instead, don't vote or don't participate in a system that controls almost every aspect of our lives.