Perfect Storms – 3 – Fake News

“Those who do not remember the past and fail to learn from it are condemned to repeat it” – George Santayana (tweaked by me)

It must be that time of year. December, I’m traveling, and all sorts of articles begin to appear seeming to rush to meet an end-of-year deadlines, filled with endless confirmations of the Fundamental Principles. So I must clip and squirrel away (or bookmark) for use before my own last-minute deadline arrives (i.e., now).

The following passed through my hands in a copy of USA Today while on a 2-day layover and deals with a topic of newly anointed interest: Fake News. With permission, I’ve incorporated it here and added some thoughts in italics. Don’t focus on the stage, the performance, the actors or even the costumes, but look for the patterns that lie behind the author’s (and our own) observations.

Fake news is a real Pawn in claims of media bias
Michael Wolff (@MichealWolffNYC)
December 12, 2016

New genre targets an unsuspecting, susceptible audience

Fake news is in many ways a fake news story.

It is not that there isn’t more or less deliberately deceptive news. But the “fake news” notion has become part of the epistemological phenomenon offered by liberal media to explain why Donald Trump was elected and, therefore, to discredit that election. In this, fake news becomes part of a broader conspiracy theory of unseen forces manipulating a gullible public.

(Blog: Fake news can easily be traced back to “Yellow Journalism” with its primary objective to sell newspapers, and lesser secondary objective to sway public opinion. In between “fake news” and “true news” lies a huge Gap, a grey area of “partially true news” or “incomplete news.” In all cases, Fundamental Principle 6, There Will Always Be Missing Information, is a behind the scenes driving force.)

Fake news is in itself a semantic slight of hand. A decent part of the news output by both reputable and marginal news organizations has always been phony. Gossip items, celebrity profiles, PR news releases that have not been carefully vetted, statements from politicians, reports based on court filings, almost anything from a war zone, and all Hollywood dramatizations of actual events contain a certain quotient of the inaccurate and untruthful, if not the entirely pretend and simulated.

True, the new fake news is supposedly of a higher order of fakery than most run-of-the-mill fake news. This new fake stuff is supposed to involve the deliberate creation of false stories meant to benefit Trump and right-wing conservatives and to target an unsuspecting and susceptible uneducated audience.

In other words, the new fake news is specifically for conservatives. Indeed, in this sudden news crisis, a recent article in The Washington Post cited studies – from liberal-leaning Buzzfeed and from a “robust body of academic research” – arguing that conservatives were more receptive to fake news than liberals. This, of course, largely confirmed the basic liberal view that the electorate is divided between smarts and stupids. And indeed, Edgar Welch, the 28-year old man who read about fake news accounts of a Hillary Clinton-directed pedophile ring operating out of a Washington pizzeria and showed up with his semi-automatic weapon to investigate for himself, does not, for sure, seem to be the brightest bulb.

(Blog: Recent findings (from the aforementioned Buzzfeed site) have verified that a significant amount of the “fake news designed to benefit Trump” originated in Macedonia by bored, unemployed, politically naïve teenage hackers creating “clickbait” so they could earn money via their Google AdSense accounts, online here, and additionally, from the WSJ, here. Rather demonstrates the tactics of bored, unemployed, and armed with a computer hackers attempting to transfer something from our pockets to theirs – this time Fundamental Principle 4b, The Negative-Sum Game in action.)

But even that particular high-drama fake-news moment is not technically about fake news – at least not of the wholly cynical variety. Pizzapedo-gate is another genre, conspiracy news. Conspiracy news is not real, but it is not fake either – or at least not intended to deceive. Rather it expresses quite a passionate if bizarre belief. But however unreal and off the wall, it is not news, or a view of the world, or even of the inner reality of the miss-wired, that has anything uniquely to do with Donald Trump. There have always been conspiracy theories and conspiracy nuts. For conservatives it might be Hillary Clinton fantasies, for liberals, an Oliver Stone movie – conspiracy with higher production values, but conspiracy theory nevertheless.

(Stone’s movie about the John F. Kennedy assassination takes as truth the investigation by New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison discredited by virtually everyone as entirely fraudulent.)

Fake news has undoubtedly become a Trump-related meme in part because his own statements have so often been exaggerated, grandiose, and inaccurate.

Also, he was a reality television star. There are few higher orders of faking the truth than reality television, which purports to present something real but which is, of course, made up. Everybody knows that. Or do they?

(Blog: I so appreciate when others sense something real even thought they haven’t been able to put their finger on it, exactly. The statement “Everybody knows that. Or do they?” I take to be rhetorical, a realistic and admirably subtle attempt to point out to people who don’t get that they don’t get something, that they should try to get what they don’t get. Hopefully. Fundamental Principles 7a, b, and c.)

Of course, while liberals believe conservatives are especially receptive to fake news, many conservatives and Trump supporters believe there is no bigger faker than Hillary Clinton and no bigger chumps than the liberals who are blind to what they see as her quarter-century of obvious public perfidy.

(Blog: (sigh) Same Fundamental Principles 7a, b, and c applying, both ways.)

In some sense, fake news is the liberal retort to the conservative charge of media bias.

In this, each side uses media for its own political agenda, a belief that, on both sides, is widespread enough to support the notions of both rampant fakery and rampant bias.

Of course, the right does not believe in fakers, and the left does not believe in bias.

Even if you believe that the news media has always sold a large amount of baloney, the problems of deceptive and inaccurate and entirely fabricated information has become, in the current thinking, all the more serious because of social media. The news media may have made up a lot of stuff, but at least it did it within certain limits and conventions, save, perhaps, for the National Enquirer and other marginal tabloids. Social media, on the other hand, has no standards or rules. Anybody can make this stuff up. In fact, the more outrageous it is the more page views it gets.

(Blog: Bingo! and with a rub. Social media, as fun as it may be for relationships, has also provided a forum in which Everyman, in an attempt to fill in his subconscious sense of Incomplete and Missing Information (FP 6), has an open door to publish his opinions and viewpoints as “facts” without the obligatory self-imposed “limits and conventions” to at least make an attempt to validate them. And, of course, Everybody Else, the intended audience, presumes these to be exactly the “facts” needed to fill out their own perceived Incomplete Information. Much of this years ago has been explained first by our internal human characteristic known as the Confirmation Bias, where we tend to collect “facts” and “news” that reinforces what we already believe, thus not filling in the missing information holes but actually building higher the towers of incomplete information we already have. And second by the externally learned Availability Heuristic, where we tend to react only to “news” and “facts” that are conveniently available to us. Sort of an inanimate  Dunbar Group, where our limited source of influences is made up of “news” items rather than people.)

In that sense, this isn’t really political. It just reflects the economics of online publishing.

The truth, or at least the standard version of the news has been commoditized, so you need to make up a new version if you have any hope of getting any attention. If there’s any consolation here, in the manner that digital media tends to work, this means that soon everybody will be producing fake news to get more traffic, hence fake news too will be commonplace, and get no attention, if that’s consolation.

But it should also be noted that fake news is an issue that has largely been argued by traditional media, which has seen its market and long-time gatekeeper function eroded by social media.

In this, implicitly, the antidote to fake news is traditional media.

Is there now more inaccurate information and do more people believe it? Despite some instant studies, an authoritative answer, as opposed to a fake answer, is yet unavailable.

(Blog: Of course, having fake news become so common place that it no longer gets any attention presumes that the social media audience places a higher value on limited, accurate, truthful “news facts” than it does on a volume of “stuff” that will satisfy its need to fill in the Gaps in its Missing or Incomplete Information.

If history is a good teacher, that won’t happen by a corporate or individual Eureka moment, or a spontaneous Cerebral Illumination. It has to be intentionally taught and intentionally caught. For a supporting view, see the WSJ, here.)


About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 04: Games People Play, 06: Incomplete Information, 07: Getting It, Lessons from History, The Fundamental Principles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Perfect Storms – 3 – Fake News

  1. Jennifer says:

    Good post. Did you by chance see what Denzel Washington said to a “journalist” back in December about fake news? I appreciated when he said, “One of the effects of ‘too much information’ is the need to be first, not even to be true anymore.” It leaves me with the question, “What good is it to watch the news anymore?” I’m not sure the news media can be trusted to tell the truth. Hmmmm… to where should we go for truth?


  2. Jim Edmonds says:

    Thank you, Jennifer. No, I hadn’t heard of Denzel’s remarks, but they ring true to developing thoughts on this thread of “too much information.” Unfortunately, it’s not necssarily a place to go to get to the truth, but more of an understanding of the process to get wherever it is. Thank you for your insights.


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