Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What's Wrong With Fake News

Interesting that we have a new term this year - fake news - that became an important factor in the presidential election campaign, though we heard a lot more about fake news and the actual sources generating fake news post-election than we were hearing pre-election. Now it can be told. The true story of the election and the candidates. Were the mainstream news outlets holding back on their DT reporting for fear of appearing biased because he had no chance of winning? So holding back was supposed to be best of all possible worlds - being as fair as possible to candidate DT who was going to lose anyway. Except he didn't.
Josh Marshall has a good take on fake news with the unfortunate insulting title "Why You're Fooling Yourself About 'Fake News". Consumption of fake news is a choice people make, like Diet Pepsi. Consumers know they are choosing fake news, information that may be demonstrably false, but choose not to select news sources based on veracity.  The problem with letting that situation just exist in society is that matters only become much worse. For example, if fake news exists side-by-side with real news, that is, accurate information, then fake news can drive out the real news. Fake news helps sow confusion, which benefits alt-government, i.e. autocracy, kleptocracy or any form of diminished democracy. So the problem is not just the impact on the consumers of fake news, but on the real news that gets lost in the confusion.
Back to Marshall's text:
"But again, I think we realize that this isn't really how people's mind's work. People's political beliefs don't stem from the factual information they've acquired. Far more the facts people choose to believe are the product of their political beliefs. In fact, I think it even goes beyond this. I think there's a legitimate question about how much many people actually 'believe' what we call 'fake news'. In many cases, 'fake news', the latest manufactured outrage, functions as a kind of ideational pornography, ideas and claims that excite people's political feelings, desires and fears and create feelings of connection with kindred political spirits."I agree with the last part (to some extent) , but not the first. Not "Far more the facts people choose to believe are the product of their political beliefs". Not necessarily and more importantly, much of the misunderstanding between people who disagree in their political beliefs is attributed to bias. But bias does not explain beliefs. Political leaning does not explain perception of the world. Rather, perception of the world may help explain poltical belief. People who do not understand how other people think because the way they think differs sometimes attribute their lack of understanding to the bias of the others. We can understand the world in which we live better if we keep trying to understand the political arguments of others assuming they are not biased. At the moment we attribute their understanding of the world solely to bias, we have given up on understanding.

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