The Solution To Fake News Is Progressive News

Most of us believe we’re too savvy to fall for a fake news site, whether a non-existent Denver newspaper created by a Democrat from California, or fake news spread by the Russians and Chinese taking the most trusted source of information, Facebook, by storm. But the point of fake news isn’t that you actually believe the stories, but that they sow a sufficient seed of doubt.

Sure, some percentage of people actually believed the content such sites (for instance, that Hillary Clinton was behind the death of a federal agent). But a far greater number of people came away ever so slightly more doubtful of what is true. They didn’t believe Hillary Clinton ordered a hit, but they didn’t disbelieve it either. It simply became part of the background, one more unsettled question.

Part of the problem is that the internet has allowed us to live in a bubble of confirmation bias, believing what serves our beliefs because we want to believe.

Many of us are ensconced in our own information bubbles. Few people reject crazy claims based on the fact they hadn’t heard about them before now, because chances are they already have heard about them, or something close to them, from the sites that tend to confirm their biases. That makes them more susceptible to taking fake news seriously.

The flip side is that outlets once considered legitimate and reliable are now fairly openly feeding us news through their bias. Hi, New York Times!

The best (only?) argument in favor of fake news is that the mainstream media has chosen to put aside accuracy for a “higher calling”:

So your choice is relegated to fake news that says what you want it to and real news that says what they want it to. Either way, you’re just being fed bullshit.

While the legitimate media may not be inclined to fabricate news from whole cloth, they don’t seem to have much of an issue cherry picking facts and arguments, adding in a heavy dose of spin, to assure that you walk away with the certainty that their agenda is the only true one.

Misinformation has long been a weapon to mislead, or merely confuse, people. The internet is a new medium to spread it, allowing anyone to create the appearance of legitimacy (remember, on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog?) and an echo chamber par excellence.

Bear in mind, without the spread made possible by people who want to believe, the mere creation of a website does nothing. You believe because your friends and fellow travelers believe. You may not trust the fake Denver rag, but you trust your Facebook friends. If they say it’s true, and you really want it to be true, who are you to doubt them?

The dilemma of fake news produced a list of untrustworthy websites by communications prof Melissa Zimbars, plus a tutorial on things to look for. She also raised some critical issues with fairly mainstream internet outlets, though they had not yet made her list.

It’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames. Some sources not yet included in this list (although their practices at times may qualify them for addition), such as The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and Fox News, vacillate between providing important, legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources.

What news sources did she assert to be reliable?

Some people are asking which news sources I trust, and all I can say is that I read/watch/listen very widely, from mainstream, corporate owned sources (The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes) as well as The Atlantic, National Public Radio, and various local and alternative sources with different political perspectives, some of which are included on this list. The problem: Even typically reliable sources, whether mainstream or alternative, corporate or nonprofit, rely on particular media frames to report stories and select stories based on different notions of newsworthiness.

Whether you agree with her list of better and worse sources, the next shoe is about to fall which takes the dilemma to a far worse place than a mere proliferation of fake or biased “news.”

Silicon Valley is, slowly, coming to terms with the way its products have enabled the revival of illiberal populism around the world. Only a week after the election, Twitter finally introduced some simple anti-harassment tools that its users had been requesting for years. It’s not encouraging, by any means, that we’re reduced to begging powerful CEOs to institute changes to their popular products for the sake of democracy. At Facebook, frustrated employees formed a secret working group aimed at dealing with “fake news”; eventually, Zuckerberg declared that the company would take several concrete steps to address it. A week later, the New York Times reported that the company had been working on a censorship tool in an effort to reenter the Chinese market.

Forget begging internet CEOs, and consider what they’re begging them to do: leave it up to Zuckerberg to decide what news is real enough for Facebook.

But the recent panicked focus on fixing the “fake news” problem itself seems inadequate, reliant on the belief that merely by ensuring that hoaxes and lies are unable to circulate on social networks, we can return to civil public discourse.

Who doesn’t like civil public discourse? That should be the clue as to what the real problem is:

The question we face now is: What happens when the industry destroyed is professional politics, the institutions leveled are the same few that prop up liberal democracy, and the values the internet disseminates are racism, nationalism, and demagoguery?

Free speech, even if it allows for misinformation, isn’t good enough because it still allows for evil “values” to be promulgated, inconsistent with progressive values which are the only values worthy of spreading. The solution to fake news is to wipe the internet clean of all dissenting views that spread “illiberal” values so that only positive values appear.  And then you can chat about it with your friends over a nice chardonnay.

24 thoughts on “The Solution To Fake News Is Progressive News

  1. norahc

    Unfortunately too many people believe “civil public discourse” only happens when people agree with them.

  2. B. McLeod

    The “legitimate” media are responsible for as much fake news as anybody. They never fail to report every “hate crime” hoax without critical questions or analysis.

  3. Mr. Median

    George Orwell, Preface to Animal Farm: “Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. Anyone who has lived long in a foreign country will know of instances of sensational items of news — things which on their own merits would get the big headlines-being kept right out of the British press, not because the Government intervened but because of a general tacit agreement that ‘it wouldn’t do’ to mention that particular fact. So far as the daily newspapers go, this is easy to understand. The British press is extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics. But the same kind of veiled censorship also operates in books and periodicals, as well as in plays, films and radio. At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to say this, that or the other, but it is ‘not done’ to say it, just as in mid-Victorian times it was ‘not done’ to mention trousers in the presence of a lady. Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

  4. DaveL

    It’s not encouraging, by any means, that we’re reduced to begging powerful CEOs to institute changes to their popular products for the sake of democracy.

    “Democracy” being, of course, the state of affairs where an elite few are appointed to be the arbiters of what claims are true and what values are acceptable for everyone else.

  5. Jeff Gamso

    A lie will travel halfway around the world before truth has time to put its boots on.

    (Attributed, with variations in wording, to nearly every prominent wit of the last 150 years – mostly inaccurately.)

  6. st

    At least Melissa Zimdars put her name on her hit list.

    Wapo displayed cowardice and hypocrisy that is extraordinary even by their low standards. Their list was developed by unnamed sources, supposedly allied with a website no one has ever heard of. Wapo tells us these folks are “experts” because … Wapo sez they are.

    Glenn Greenwald wrote the best fisking so far:

    Washington Post Disgracefully Promotes a McCarthyite Blacklist From a New, Hidden, and Very Shady Group

  7. LTMG

    There is a recent discussion of whether partisan discussions belong in the primary and secondary education classrooms. If teachers present partisan opinions, then they are denying their students the chance to develop critical thinking skills. These help readers to distinguish real from fake news. Based on some of the opinions and comments I read on other blogs, critical thinking is becoming in increasingly short supply.

  8. Allen

    I find it endlessly amusing that news organizations are sobbing over outrageous news sources when their highest professional award was established by a guy who specialized in yellow journalism.

  9. KP

    Its just that the non-mainstream media supplies news that fits the incentives of human beings very well- it seems far more likely that some politician did something because he benefitted from it, rather than some rag-head in another country who doesn’t even know where America is.

    I find nothing wrong with getting all my news from the web, not that I’d be seen dead on a social site. That’s why I read Simple Justice- its great for my confirmational bias as a grumpy old man!

    1. SHG Post author

      But I don’t report. I provide “value-added” (if I’m lucky) commentary. I rely on media to report. That said, I’m fairly discerning about primary sources and who I trust. I trash a lot of what people send me because it lacks sources, is inadequately reports or smells like bullshit.

      1. B. McLeod

        I truly enjoyed CNN’s sleazebaggery today, as they combined “letter calls for genocide” with a big “Trump Transition” video about terrorized Muslim women, practicing their self-defense moves. Presumably so that they may sell their lives dearly when the Trumpistas come to force them into the genocide lines. Pretty damned ludicrous, given the possibility (even probability) that the “letter” of unknown origin is actually just another piece of “progressive liberal” stagecraft. The desperate media scramble to whip up a campaign of genocide from nothing, and to attribute it to Trump, says far more about their unethical unprofessionalism than it does about Trump.

  10. Jonathan

    You’ve been a little unfair to Mr. Read. The opposite of illiberal isn’t progressive; it’s free thought/expression and appeal to reason. His article raises more questions than answers; but he’s not begging Facebook for relief. His particular unicorn is an internet less dominated by a few gatekeepers together with “a strong free press; transparent, independent institutions; and the old-fashioned democratic value of arguing with your neighbors to their faces, rather than with their Twitter accounts.” In the article, he’s got his sights set on radical conservatism, but his analysis is equally valid when applied to identitarian progressivism.

    1. SHG Post author

      Meh. His perspective was obvious, even though he tried to massage it at the end to make it not seem so flagrantly partisan.

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