Monday, March 3, 2014

The Disinformation Age

Hello everyone! I am up late tonight trying to write this blog post because I spent most of the day working on a short story called Box of Crayons. The deadline for the contest was Saturday at 11 PM. That is mostly what I worked on this week, so I didn't get much done on my upcoming novel.

This week I wanted to discuss something that is important to me. Something that angers me, and it should anger you as well. It's the spread of disinformation in our society as a whole. The main culprit is the media in the United States. There are also too many lazy people who follow along with whatever they are told rather than doing the research themselves. In this day and age that means making sure your sources are credible and impartial. Some people in countries outside the United States are more informed about what is happening here than most Americans. I am not here to bash any one liberal or conservative media outlet, but Fox News has provided the most blatant examples. They are also the pioneers of many of the techniques other stations use, so I will use examples pointing to these from time to time.

In years past we used to be able to trust our news sources. They had integrity. They would check their sources and then double check them to make sure they weren't lying. They may have put a slightly political slant, but they still reported the facts. Those days are over. Fox is the pioneer of this trend -  Here's an excerpt: "During their appeal, FOX asserted that there are no written rules against distorting news in the media. They argued that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves. Fox attorneys did not dispute Akre’s claim that they pressured her to broadcast a false story, they simply maintained that it was their right to do so."

Thanks to this ruling we have so many news sources trying to mislead us all to manipulate people into doing their bidding. Instead of reporting the facts the major news sources of yesteryear editorialize everything. They mix facts with opinions and rumor to confound the masses. Our politicians in the United States have done nothing to curb this trend.


Why would our trusted sources of information betray us like that?  The answer is simple. Money. When the news outlets report news, by their code of ethics, it has to be true. Sometimes the truth isn't in the best interests of the owner or friends of the owner of the newspaper or TV station. In those cases they want to create doubt. They have also found that entertainment value trumps the truth in every case. For evidence take a look at the ratings for Fox News. To sell their propaganda all they have to do is make their "news" entertaining. The higher their ratings or subscriptions rise, the more money they make on advertising.

How are we being misled?

There are many techniques they use to mislead us all when it comes to the news. The writer or newscaster will insert their opinions as part of the news, and then go on to explain their opinion. It may sound perfectly reasonable, but they don't give anyone else a chance to show an opposing opinion. At other times they will give that opposing opinion a voice, for about a quarter as much time as they give their own opinion. They always get the last word to refute, try to debunk, or just put their fingers in their ears and say no no no. If the person who is giving the opposing view decides not to put up with their shenanigans, guess what happens?  They are treated with hostility, their microphone cut off, and are never on that show again.

In print they can just edit the story and quotes to manipulate the story to their liking. It's a lot easier to do in print by taking quotes out of context to give people the wrong impression. They also manipulate the title of each story to get readers. A lot of people will only read the title, but the title may imply the opposite of what the story is about.  I see this a lot online. Blogging advice I have seen says to put your talking points in headers as most readers are only going to skim your blog post.

The biggest offense the media commits is in how they present scientific findings that they don't like. They present it as a politiical debate rather than as fact. Politicians show up on news programs to oppose scientific findings. Scientists who are presenting the truth and facts are not used to having to debate facts that are well known in the scientific community. For politicians it is second nature, and they are given more time to discuss their point of view.

4 Ways you can help fix the problem.

1.) Stop trusting disreputable sources.

There are no unbiased sources in the media. How do you figure out which news sources to trust? Google is your friend. I found a link to a website that tries to rank the bias of news organizations. Obviously Fox News is biased on the right and the Huffington Post is on the left. The least biased sources would be closer to the center. Here's another article about detecting bias if you want to do the work yourself. I highly recommend doing the work yourself. It is also a good guide to filter what you hear.

2.) Educate yourself on the issues you care about.

Do you care about the politics in Northern Vietnam? Do you care about Climate Change? Do you care about the Affordable Healthcare Act? If the answer is yes then educate yourself on the issue.  Consult multiple sources. Look at both sides of the argument. Question everything. Don't take anyone's word for it. Look up the facts, and form your own opinion.

3.) Share what you know, not what you don't

If you're not an expert on a subject then don't act like you are. If there's a discussion you want to participate in on the latest topic of interest then see #2 on this list. After you have educated yourself, you have weapons in any argument  or conversation in the subject. Knowledge is power my friends. If you can break down the arguments of the people who are listening to the biased ignorance of the right wing or liberal media then you can convince them of the truth. Unless, of course, they are stupid and refuse to believe in silly things like "facts" and "evidence".  You might want to reconsider being friends with them if that's the case.

4.) Don't let others spread ignorance.

I see people do this all the time. They repeat information they hear from other sources. They talk about it with their friends who have similar beliefs. Things get passed around quickly on the internet, but people don't stop to think about it. There are so many hoaxes that get passed around on Facebook that it's rediculous. Even after the hoaxes have been uncovered and there are several comments on it saying so. There are still some people passing around that nonsense. The same thing happens with disinformation. When you see it, do what you can to stop it. Don't just let it go. It's important that people know the truth about issues that are important to you. You have to take a stand and let everyone know it. Some people will still cling to their beliefs no matter what.

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