18 votes

Why can’t we agree on what’s true any more?

18 comments

  1. [9]
    Litmus2336
    Link
    I think this goes beyond reporting - we're seeing the very concept of truth disintegrating. With the advent of deepfakes, doctoring images, blatantly incorrect propaganda being pushed by...

    I think this goes beyond reporting - we're seeing the very concept of truth disintegrating. With the advent of deepfakes, doctoring images, blatantly incorrect propaganda being pushed by governments (and this isn't all that new, we can't forget the "babies being thrown out of incubators in Kuwait" speech) where we actually do lose the ability to be able to discern truth from fiction. No longer is the crisis of truth relegated to the realm of Descartes, who first worried a demon might be deceiving us with reality. Now it comes much closer to home, as we realize we might no longer be able to believe what we see with our own eyes.

    9 votes
    1. [7]
      onyxleopard
      Link Parent
      This lack of access to first-hand information was once the raison d’être for the profession of journalism. Many "news outlets" these days are merely mouthpieces that convey information without...

      With the advent of deepfakes, doctoring images, blatantly incorrect propaganda being pushed by governments (and this isn't all that new, we can't forget the "babies being thrown out of incubators in Kuwait" speech) where we actually do lose the ability to be able to discern truth from fiction.

      This lack of access to first-hand information was once the raison d’être for the profession of journalism. Many "news outlets" these days are merely mouthpieces that convey information without evaluating it or giving it appropriate context. This drives page-views/eyeballs, so for-profit "news outlets" can be successful as long as they are timely in their delivery of information and as long as there is sufficient controversy in current events (if there isn’t enough controversy, maybe they’ll even synthesize some). As such, the motive for for-profit journalists is attaining either a larger, or more avid audience. They are not motivated by doing good work because the quality of their work no longer drives engagement.

      This contrasts with the historical role of the news, which was to not only inform viewers/readers, but to contextualize information, fact-check, and even go some way towards interpreting stories.

      My view is that for-profit journalism is oxymoronic. You need publicly funded news to have any semblance of objectivity. The job of the journalist should be to not just convey information, but to mediate it. A proper journalist will not just report on a story, but do real work to investigate the issues and give the consumer some substantive contextualization. If you could have gotten the same information from the source yourself, the reporter hasn’t done their job. That’s not to say there isn’t room for investigative journalism which might uncover stories that the public generally wouldn’t have had access to. My point is more that quoting a tweet or other primary source, without doing some substantial contextualization and interpretation, shouldn’t be considered news.

      We’ve had "fake news" since before that terminology existed. It’s just that historically, the fairness doctrine or other journalistic norms would curtail the ability of parties to manipulate the public via news media.

      Now it comes much closer to home, as we realize we might no longer be able to believe what we see with our own eyes.

      That’s not really my personal concern. My concern is, if what we see is not the truth, was the signal intentionally manipulated, and if so, by whom? Good journalists will answer those questions. Bad journalists will just pass on the information without examination.

      12 votes
      1. [6]
        Litmus2336
        Link Parent
        When has there ever been impartial press? Yellow Journalism goes back to the founding of America, the Spanish-American war, the French revolution. I don't really believe the average integrity of...

        When has there ever been impartial press? Yellow Journalism goes back to the founding of America, the Spanish-American war, the French revolution. I don't really believe the average integrity of professional journalists has decreased, I think there's a bit more too.

        6 votes
        1. [5]
          onyxleopard
          Link Parent
          Contextualizing and interpreting raw information doesn’t need to be impartial to be useful. At least when the fairness doctrine was established as a policy (and for a while after it was...

          When has there ever been impartial press?

          Contextualizing and interpreting raw information doesn’t need to be impartial to be useful. At least when the fairness doctrine was established as a policy (and for a while after it was eliminated), radio and television broadcast news in the US was at least ostensibly devoting time to matters of public interest, even if those were not necessarily the most flashy stories.

          4 votes
          1. [4]
            Litmus2336
            Link Parent
            The fairness doctrine doesn't specify that broadcasters need to devote time to matters of public interest, and ultimately I don't think it was all that successful. When all your press is...

            The fairness doctrine doesn't specify that broadcasters need to devote time to matters of public interest, and ultimately I don't think it was all that successful. When all your press is controlled by a few major broadcasting corporations it doesn't really matter if you're supposed to "present the other side of a story", it just becomes another aside.

            1 vote
            1. [3]
              onyxleopard
              (edited )
              Link Parent
              Fairness doctrine | United States Policy [1949-1987]

              In 1949 the commission promulgated a report, In the Matter of Editorializing by Broadcast Licensees, that interpreted the public interest provisions of the Radio Act and the Communications Act as a mandate to promote “a basic standard of fairness” in broadcasting. Licensees had the duty to devote airtime to fair and balanced coverage of controversial issues that were of interest to their home communities. Individuals who were the subject of editorials or who perceived themselves to be the subject of unfair attacks in news programming were to be granted an opportunity to reply. Also, candidates for public office were entitled to equal airtime.

              Fairness doctrine | United States Policy [1949-1987]

              3 votes
              1. [2]
                Litmus2336
                Link Parent
                I'm disappointed in Britannica for, while not being completely incorrect, is disappointingly unclear. See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FCC_fairness_doctrine...

                I'm disappointed in Britannica for, while not being completely incorrect, is disappointingly unclear.

                See here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FCC_fairness_doctrine
                https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Equal-time_rule

                What you are referring to in regards to candidates for public office is covered under the Equal-Time rule, not the fairness doctrine.

                Furthermore, the ability to respond to personal attacks is covered under the Personal Attack Rule, which is a corollary to fairness doctrine continued beyond its dissolution: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_attack_rule

                Ultimately what I'm trying to say is a lot of people point to the "fairness doctrine" as being a tool to ensure media ethics, but alone it's quite toothless. A lot more was needed (and is needed) to ensure journalistic integrity.

                1. onyxleopard
                  (edited )
                  Link Parent
                  I was not intending to bring up the Equal-Time rule (it was included in that paragraph incidentally). I emphasized the relevant part I was calling out in italics. I think the Wikipedia article is...

                  I was not intending to bring up the Equal-Time rule (it was included in that paragraph incidentally). I emphasized the relevant part I was calling out in italics.

                  I think the Wikipedia article is in agreement with Britannica:

                  The fairness doctrine had two basic elements: It required broadcasters to devote some of their airtime to discussing controversial matters of public interest, and to air contrasting views regarding those matters.

                  Ultimately what I'm trying to say is a lot of people point to the "fairness doctrine" as being a tool to ensure media ethics, but alone it's quite toothless.

                  Yeah, all laws are toothless without enforcement. I’m not aware of the FCC taking any broadcasters to task for violations, but it’s also my understanding that the doctrine was taken fairly seriously.

                  A lot more was needed (and is needed) to ensure journalistic integrity.

                  There are surely other policies like media ownership caps, net neutrality, not allowing Republicans to defund PBS etc. that could all help out. But, I think you’re undervaluing the fairness doctrine as a baseline.

    2. cmccabe
      Link Parent
      Yes. I’m not sure why the article omitted this side but it struck me that it was conspicuously missing. Interpretation of data relative to a story or frame is important, but verifying the...

      Yes. I’m not sure why the article omitted this side but it struck me that it was conspicuously missing. Interpretation of data relative to a story or frame is important, but verifying the integrity of data in the first place is equally important. And the problem of fabricated information as part of misleading propaganda is only going to get worse.

      3 votes
  2. [5]
    Comment deleted by author
    Link
    1. [4]
      Litmus2336
      Link Parent
      What good news sources existed before the advent of capitalism, that weren't state run? I'll agree over-emphasis on profits really hurts the news, but I don't think that we had a thriving...

      What good news sources existed before the advent of capitalism, that weren't state run?

      I'll agree over-emphasis on profits really hurts the news, but I don't think that we had a thriving pre-capitalist news industry that all of a sudden has died. The loss of "quality content" (primarily investigative pieces, well researched but controversial pieces) has been particularly awful.

      2 votes
      1. [3]
        vegai
        Link Parent
        It's perfectly ok that they're state run.

        What good news sources existed before the advent of capitalism, that weren't state run?

        It's perfectly ok that they're state run.

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          Litmus2336
          Link Parent
          By the monarchies of Europe, censored, and created to support the interests of the state?

          By the monarchies of Europe, censored, and created to support the interests of the state?

          1. vegai
            Link Parent
            Might be fine, depends on on the monarchy. Obviously monarchies are pointless historical artifacts and should be abolished, but they may also be relatively harmless and benevolent. Not ok, but...

            monarchies of Europe

            Might be fine, depends on on the monarchy. Obviously monarchies are pointless historical artifacts and should be abolished, but they may also be relatively harmless and benevolent.

            censored

            Not ok, but doesn't apply to all state-run media. But also might be fine depending on your definition of censored. If it's "not giving platform to political people who are against the current government" then it's not ok. If it's "not giving platform to extremely harmful ideas" then it's ok.

            The slope is usually not slippery.

            created to support the interests of the state

            Not perfectly ok (except if the state is benevolent), and also doesn't apply to all state-run media.

  3. onyxleopard
    Link
    I strongly disagree with this. I don’t think the current issues of political polarization are exacerbated by proliferation of news media. If there were fewer news media, I still think there would...

    But in the past 20 years, this patchwork of record-keeping has been supplemented and threatened by a radically different system, which is transforming the nature of empirical evidence and memory. One term for this is “big data”, which highlights the exponential growth in the quantity of data that societies create, thanks to digital technologies.

    As many of the original evangelists of big data liked to claim, when everything is being recorded, our knowledge of the world no longer needs to be mediated by professionals, experts, institutions and theories.

    I strongly disagree with this.

    I don’t think the current issues of political polarization are exacerbated by proliferation of news media. If there were fewer news media, I still think there would be similar levels of polarization. The problem is not quantity of information, it’s lack of expert interpretation. The world is too complex for most of us to fully comprehend, and as such, we need the assistance of domain experts to unpack those parts that we are not experts in ourselves. If there is more information, we need commensurate expert analysis. We are susceptible to having our lack of expertise exploited, whether we have access to primary sources or not. Since there is little financial incentive to become a journalist, however, we rarely have access to real expertise when consuming news media. Someone who can aptly unpack a complex topic is most likely applying their knowledge in their field instead of becoming a journalist.

    I wish this article would have attempted to address the apparent paradox of proliferation of information and a growing disparity in level of informedness (at least in the U.S.).

    What we are discovering is that, once the limitations on data capture are removed, there are escalating opportunities for conflict over the nature of reality. Every time a mainstream media agency reports the news, they can instantly be met with the retort: but what about this other event, in another time and another place, that you failed to report? What about the bits you left out? What about the other voters in the town you didn’t talk to? When editors judge the relative importance of stories, they now confront a panoply of alternative judgements. Where records are abundant, fights break out over relevance and meaning.

    This is just a problem of analytics, not of big data. As data collection capability increases, you’re going to end up collecting more rare events. If you don’t look at the whole data set, it becomes easier to cherry-pick rare events to push a chosen narrative, rather than objectively weight events by their prevalence. Anecdotes are problematic if you’re trying to understand a phenomenon, but at the same time, human psychology is prone to adhere to good story-telling. This is why we rely on journalism to contextualize and appropriately analyze. It’s not surprising that bad analysis, or merely lack of analysis, is problematic.

    What can professional editors and journalists do in response? One response is to shout even louder about their commitment to “truth”, as some American newspapers have profitably done in the face of Trump. But this escalates cultural conflict, and fails to account for how the media and informational landscape has changed in the past 20 years.

    I’d rather they concentrate on maintaining an immaculate track record for upholding their journalistic integrity than telling me. Actions speak louder than words in this case. The more you try convince me of your commitment to some ideal with words, the less convincing you seem to me.

    5 votes
  4. [2]
    cmccabe
    Link
    This is an interesting perspective on the current crisis of truth in mainstream media. While the article acknowledges the pernicious media campaigns of the American right, it argues that there is...

    This is an interesting perspective on the current crisis of truth in mainstream media. While the article acknowledges the pernicious media campaigns of the American right, it argues that there is still a broader problem of distrust in traditional forms of reporting.

    Any type of reporting requires an editorial process that selects which facts are important to include and exclude, and thereby which are important within a usually unreferenced "frame" of a story. And because readers now have access to more information and data than ever before, it is much easier for them to identify inconsistencies in reporting and to call them out as failures of objectivity. Of course, prominent figures like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have made this a central part of their political strategies -- everything can be called out as "fake news".

    I would love to see more discussion on Tildes about how we break out of this situation. One small step is simply to increase awareness about the role of journalism and the compromises that are required during the interpretation of data. This article also talks about the value of analyzing the drivers behind bias in the media:

    "If we recognize that reporting and editing is always a political act (at least in the sense that it asserts the importance of one story rather than another), then the key question is not whether it is biased, but whether it is independent of financial or political influence. The problem becomes a quasi-constitutional one, of what processes, networks and money determine how data gets turned into news, and how power gets distributed."

    There is obviously a lot more to this subject, but I like the different angle of this article. I am curious to see what other Tildes members have to say and to see if anyone has related readings to suggest.

    3 votes
    1. skybrian
      Link Parent
      As I've said before, I think as readers we need to be comfortable with uncertainty. Much of what we think we know comes from glowing screens rather than first-hand knowledge. Another thing that...

      As I've said before, I think as readers we need to be comfortable with uncertainty. Much of what we think we know comes from glowing screens rather than first-hand knowledge.

      Another thing that helps is to encourage genuine curiosity. Everything you read raises more questions, if you're open to them.

      2 votes
  5. DonQuixote
    Link
    That's easy. If I agree with the conspiracy theorist, there's no conspiracy at all. However, if I disagree with their views, it's obvious that they're peddling misinformation. And that, my...

    But it is possible to have too much scepticism. How exactly do we distinguish this critical mentality from that of the conspiracy theorist, who is convinced that they alone have seen through the official version of events?

    That's easy. If I agree with the conspiracy theorist, there's no conspiracy at all. However, if I disagree with their views, it's obvious that they're peddling misinformation.

    And that, my friends, is the problem. The internet is turning our bias inside out and making it an issue of its own. My favorite conspiracy theory is The Conspiracy of Algorithms. This is the concept that budding algorithms now being used in everything from number theory to automated driving have absorbed human biases from the datasets they've been fed. As algorithms become more complex and less transparent, these biases are likely resulting in conflicts which are settled ad hoc which then get fed back into the algorithm.

    This isn't a true conspiracy, because the problem is basically systemic. It's no more complex than the rounding errors that plagued spreadsheets at their beginnings.

    1 vote
  6. vegai
    Link
    Because the media lost its power that it rightfully should have when the Internet unleashed the great democratization on it. When all voices are equal, the bell curve guarantees that most people...

    Because the media lost its power that it rightfully should have when the Internet unleashed the great democratization on it. When all voices are equal, the bell curve guarantees that most people get mediocre opinions.