As 2016 draws to a close, few disinfonauts will dispute that it has been an extraordinary year, in myriad ways. For Americans, this was the year that reality television became real life. For Britons it was the year that they ditched the European Union, for better or worse (who can forget the “wait, what did I just vote for?” sentiments that were prevalent in the days after the Brexit vote).
There was simply no avoiding the US presidential election. It took over every conversation, everywhere, at home and abroad. And it went on forever. In fact, for those hoping that at the very least the declared result would mean the end of it, no such luck; the recount efforts and protests continue with little sign of abating.
Then we come to the so-called “fake news” phenomenon exemplified by Jestin Color’s “Disinfomedia.” Fake news isn’t exactly new, although the way the media is reacting you’d think they’d never heard of the term “disinformation” before. The very reason for this website was that you can’t trust what the media feeds you. An early version of our “About” page read in part:
“We encourage you to research each topic for yourself: check out all the links, especially the ones that seem contrary to your views; question the motivation of the writer and publisher; and form your own opinion about the information that is being presented. We suggest that you treat all other news/information outlets in the same way – the media have strong biases which directly affect the way in which news and information is presented to you – and very often that leads to disinformation.”
The point is that fake news isn’t exclusive to teenage Macedonians, although this NBC News report does suggest that it’s become a whole lot more opportunistic and far less ideological:
Google and Facebook are promising to improve their algorithms to filter out, or at least reduce the visibility of “fake news” stories, but from where we’re sitting that’s not entirely welcome. What are the criteria they’ll apply? Are non-mainstream news sources (including ours) going to make the cut? Who will decide which stories are legitimate? Let’s not forget that the mainstream media has propagated all sorts of false stories in the past, from George W. Bush’s infamous weapons of mass destruction to the Gulf of Tonkin false flag incident. (Feel free to post your favorite MSM news stories that turned out not to be true in the comments.)
It’s a challenge that Mark Thompson, president and CEO of the New York Times, recently addressed in speech given to the Detroit Economic Club. He said in part,
“In all but a handful of cases like The Times with large audiences, deep engagement and real subscription potential, it’s easier today to make a profit on search and social from fake news than it is from the real thing. Where will that take us if uncorrected? The big search and social companies must do more to sustain the economics of real journalism.”
Well yes, that’s true, but let’s not get our hopes up too much; the simple fact is that the search and social companies are making way too much money to make a truly concerted effort, and as suggested above, one should be careful what one wishes for. We cannot (and should not) rely on the distribution platforms to filter the information for us, so the advice this site gave to its readers so many years ago, around about the time Google was launched and way before Facebook existed, is more relevant than ever.
In sum it’s worth repeating, in paraphrased fashion, our old mantra: don’t believe everything you see, read or hear and seek multiple verifying sources if a news item seems unlikely or is framed as “click bait.” Don’t “share” dubious news stories via your social feeds unless you’re sure they have some merit, or at the very least put a cover note on top indicating doubt. Or do, sew chaos and subvert the system. Hail Eris!
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