Monthly Archives: January 2017

Genetically Modified Journalism

fakenews3Pawing through the bones of most ‘news’ stories today, it’s exponentially more difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction in the scraps we are often aggressively fed.

It’s something that many of us are frustrated and often angry about; how am I supposed to formulate an opinion on the issue, let alone vote constructively in a referendum or election, if I can’t sort the wheat from the chaff?

The heated debate post Brexit, and now the election of the 45th President of the United States, are cases in point.

The not new phenomenon of ‘fake news’ has been extensively blamed for decisions made by the electorate, along with ‘reasons’ offered for why a particular individual or political group didn’t realise the outcomes they expected. How much of the angst comes from genuine factual concerns or simply post event disappointment and / or jealousy remains to be seen.

Fake news websites deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation — using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect. Unlike news satire, fake news websites seek to mislead, rather than entertain, readers for financial, political, or other gain. (wikipedia.org)

But should we really be worried?

The simple answer is YES however it’s not so easy to apportion blame and identify who is at fault. It is a little hard (and somewhat simplistic) to try to lay the total blame for all this fake news and propaganda at the door of any particular individual or organisation.

naija247news.com: Facebook is a go-to place for news, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg has insisted that it is not a media company…(read more)

Mark Zuckerberg, who has so vociferously promoted freedoms of so-called ‘connected expression’ in the past, has eventually caved-in to public angst on the topic (see here) and accepted some responsibility for the proliferation of our fake news. But could his new social conscious actually be contrived and part of a much bigger personal long-term master plan (see here)?

Techcrunch.com: Fake news has been top of mind for a lot of people as of late. After the presidential election in the U.S. and public outcry over the prevalence of false information on Facebook, the company announced measures to prevent fake news from appearing on the platform. But there are still concerns about the civic consequences of fake news and the effect it has on people once it’s already been spread…(read more)

In a recent press conference just prior to The Presidential Inauguration, Donald Trump lashed out at the likes of BuzzFeed.com and CNN.com accusing their people of publishing fake news and undermining him, he refused to take questions from their reporters and journalists (see here).

Trump repeatedly criticized CNN and BuzzFeed throughout his press conference at Trump Tower in New York on Wednesday, calling BuzzFeed a “leftwing blog” and a “failing pile of garbage” for publishing the unverified report. (The Guardian)

Perhaps he had a valid point but, is Donald Trump and/or his campaign team any better than those he so angrily chose to vilify? Should he not be mindful of that age old adage… People in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones!

14 Fake News Stories Created or Publicized by Donald Trump: Fake news is the one thing Trump hasn’t claimed to have invented that he actually deserves some credit for inventing…(read more)

As highlighted by The Guardian in December, the issue of fake news really is “an insidious trend that’s fast becoming a global problem” (see here) and I don’t think many would argue against that fact. What to do about it, if indeed any remedial actions are realistically possible, is the pressing question here.

fakenews1

Andrew Smith in a recent Guardian article said that “pedlars of fake news are corroding democracy” which may partly be true, but he also went on to say; “If most adults get their news from Facebook we need laws to make the social networks accountable.”

No, what we need to do is teach people to have a far more analytical mind, to not always believe what it is they are told and importantly, to arrive at their personal opinion based upon far more than (mostly manipulated) headlines and socially engineered views of ‘friends’ within a social-media network.

fakenews2To my mind, any attempt to control or regulate any media outlets are a), mostly insidious and authoritarian, without robust ethically and socially acceptable safeguards being put in place to govern that control and b), damn near impossible in any case.

Thanks to the social connectivity enjoyed by so much of our society and brought about by the internet, our news (real or fake) travels far faster than it ever did before. In the main that’s something that needs to be lauded however; we should also remember to not always believe what we read, or at least read it with a cynical eye.

It might come as something of a shock to many but it’s also worth remembering; the world is full of self-interested and manipulative shysters hell-bent on achieving their personal goals, often at the expense of anyone who tries to stand in their way. The underlying causation of this fact is often (but not always) due to generally financial and/or self-promotional considerations.

But which source of news can we actually trust any more? Very few of them I would suggest, at least not without applying copious quantities of analytical thinking, along with a good measure of cynicism , whilst you are reading. And this ever more so important since the advent of social media!

“Post-truth” has been nominated as the word of 2016 by Oxford Dictionaries, but how can the media, or you, get better at telling reality from propaganda and mistakes? (BBC)

Ironic and also hypocritical that even once trusted providers such as the the BBC are no longer immune from the manipulation of fact; if indeed they ever were?

The recent Laura Kuenssberg Fake News debacle, eloquently examined by Thomas G Clark in his rounded and balanced political blog Another Angry Voice, is a case in point. But the BBC aren’t alone, The Guardian has also be found wanting over recently manipulated facts designed to do Corbyn’s legs so to speak (see here).

I’m fairly confident that today, there is probably no such thing as an unbiased and unmanipulated source of purely factual news. The vast majority of all the news we consume is underpinned with massive financial considerations and implications, from how it is funded and produced to how much cash it can help to generate. Put simply, once again the prominent factor in all this is money (and probably greed), dressed up as ‘business’ in capitalistic parlance, by those who seek to enhance their personal or organisational wealth, or at the very least have their personal ego stroked a little.

Medium, and The Reason You Can’t Stand the News Anymore: Any solution is complicated and I have no illusions that it would happen in the next few years, if ever. But the first step is admitting we have a problem… the content we read online is going to continue to be backed by harmful business incentives. That is, until either the consumer demands otherwise or until some enterprising person can build a repeatable model that allows journalism to thrive without being mercy to platforms for advertisers that care about reach. Seeing that the latter has never happened, all we have is the former. Nobody is happy with this, and it’s time to try something new. (Read more)

solveproblemsThe above extract comes from a relatively heavy to read article but what is easy to comprehend is; when you apply a business head with some understanding around the workings of social-media platforms, most efforts we might make to change the way we are fed our news today will ultimately be destined to failure.

This type of business ethic is something that we have come to accept, it doesn’t really matter if we like it or not, we can’t go back from here. It’s something we now have to accept but also, something that is ever more prevalent due to the recent decades of prolific globalisation. Whether or not we really understand how it works, or whether or not we actually like the situation it is fact.

Now don’t get me wrong, my views are not based upon any erstwhile youthful desires of rebellion and nonconformity or indeed, the opinions of some subversive anti-establishment Marxist voice of the proletariat. No, my views are formulated around historic and present day fact that compliment that old musical adage; ‘money makes the world go around’ …it really is that simple.

So we have to apply some unconditional acceptance here and move forward, the arguably unhealthy total pursuit of individual and organisational wealth, along with the ongoing propensity for corporate globalisation means that we have probably passed the point of return now and, we can’t address current problems with the old tools we used to create them.

But perhaps the times are actually changing? Perhaps our social angst around Brexit and Trump are the beginnings of the change we are so desperately searching for for? Many would like to think so, me included however; I’m sure the wealthy and powerful will continue to find and develop ways in which they can maintain or enhance their desired personal goals. For now, I think we have to accept our genetically modified journalism and I’m saddened that is unlikely to change in the short-term, if ever. But that’s only my opinion.

I can however assure you that I’m open to the opinion of others on this, but only if it comes from a well-read and educated viewpoint, not one that has been formulated under the misconception… “it must be right, I read it on my Facebook news feed!”

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