“Fake News” is merely a symptom of greater social ills. Our real problems are trust and manipulation.
Trust is the longer-term problem but, if we don’t grapple with the immediate and urgent problem of manipulation, our public and economical institutions may not live to reinvent themselves to earn the public’s trust back.
Today, our media, our tools, and our politics are being leveraged to help breed polarization by countless actors who can leverage these systems for personal, economic, and ideological gain.
In short: The public is being used.
The primary methods of manipulating information used by the mass media in the interests of information-psychological confrontation objectives are:
Direct lies for the purpose of disinformation;
Concealing critically important information;
Burying valuable information in a mass of information dross;
Terminological substitution: use of concepts and terms whose meaning is unclear or has undergone qualitative change, which makes it harder to form a true picture of events;
Introducing taboos on specific forms of information or categories of new;
Providing negative information, which is more readily accepted by the audience than positive.
Trolls and bots: are used to create a sense of public opinion so it is picked up by media. Journalists are harassed and intimidated, also by trolls and bots.
They exploit volume: When information volume is low, recipients tend to favor experts, but when information volume is high, recipients tend to favor information from other users.
And they exploit speed: It takes less time to make up facts than it does to verify them. And the first impression sets the agenda.
At the highest level, they attack truth: Whether from media or from official sources, multiple untruths are designed to undermine trust in the existence of objective truth.
Trolls and manipulators learn from each other.
Conspiracy theorists, techno-libertarians, white nationalists, Men’s Rights advocates, trolls, anti-feminists, anti-immigration activists, and bored young people, they all leverage both the techniques of participatory culture and the affordances of social media to spread their various beliefs and target vulnerabilities in the news media ecosystem to increase the visibility of and audience for their messages.
What ties them together is some measure of believes in some anarchistic philosophies such as anti-establishment, anti-multiculturalism, anti-globalism, anti-feminism, anti-Semitic, anti-political correctness, and nationalist and racist ideologies. But what mostly links them is their techniques. As trolls, they aim for reaction for reaction’s sake. They hack social media, media, and ultimately attention and democracy.
By getting the media to cover certain stories media manipulators are able to influence the public agenda. By reporting the messages of all the media manipulators, media become manipulators themselves.
So, WTF do we do?
Some will tackle falsehoods by fact-checking. Some will want to enhance the public’s critical thinking through so-called news literacy. Some will compile lists and signals of vice and virtues in sources.
Google, in its ranking, is now seeking and looking for the reliability, authority, and quality of sources while Facebook is killing the fake accounts used to mimic public conversation. This is fine, but rather than attacking the facts, sources, and accounts, we need to go after the real ill and evil: “Manipulation”.
We need to build public awareness. Instead of exploiting the fake news to promote their own financial interests, News media must recognize how and when they are the objects of manipulation. Not doing this, exploiting the fake news only to increase their sales and audience, they become accomplices of all these malevolent fake news propagandists. They become the trolls’ toys.
Instead of capitalizing on fake news, media should share intelligence. Major newsrooms should make sure to recognize manipulation before it affects news coverage and, regardless of profitability, communicate their findings with their counterparts wherever and whoever they are. Today, it is pitiful to see how some major brands staff war rooms are able to deal efficiently with fake news and disinformation attacks and not sharing the information with everybody else.
Instead of capitalizing on fake news, media should starve manipulators of their economic support by avoiding putting their money behind the bad guys through advertising, helping ad networks, agencies, and brands. Media, corporations and brands supporting and profiting fake news should be put in the spot, likewise for the publishers that distribute their bunkum and dross.
Manipulators should be starved of what they crave and feed upon: Attention.
I can hear journalists object that they have to cover what people are talking about. Bunkum! I say. Go FY! I say. The only reason why people are ending up talking about something is because a polluted wellspring of manipulation rose from a few ambitious bias, obsessive reporters and anchormen polluting the airwaves and pages of the newspapers. Isn’t it anything else to talk about other than biased, distorted news about Trump and fake news from wherever and whoever they originate from?
“Media, reporters and anchormen should cover the manipulators’ methods but never their messages!” This is what I say.
Owner of Bunkumless.com and King Global Earth and Environmental Sciences Corporation, JMD, a former attorney, is a Columnist for The Futurist Daily News and editor of the Social and Political Blog JMDlive.com Follow JMD @ jmdlive