Greedy Goblin

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Fake news

The media is now all out on "fake news", lies fabricated to for some agenda, including but not limited to electing Donald Trump as US president. They widely refer to "pizzagate", a claim that Hillary Clinton and her top aide Podesta ran a child abuse gang in a basement of a pizzeria which has no basement. They hard press Facebook and Twitter to censor such fake news.

Is it per se bad to silence such lies? Not at all. Lies don't help us get to the right conclusion in a discussion. The "pizzagate" info didn't help anyone make an informed decision about the election. But why do the journalists focus on social media corporations instead of laws? Why aren't they lobbying to make it illegal and punishable to create and spread lies?

Because the media isn't interested in getting rid of fake news. They just want their monopoly back. The "prestigious" New York Times created the "octopus hand" lie, which - just like the pizzagate - links a political candidate to abusive activity. Both of them have absolutely no evidence of ever happening. Neither publisher tried to verify their sources. They just published them to hurt the opposing candidate. When Trump threatened them by libel lawsuit, NYT laughed him off since the law explicitly allows such fake news creation. They aren't laughing now, since the Internet took away their monopoly. Previously only they could spread fake news, now everyone can. Putin has a whole troll army, I wouldn't be surprised if his hands were in pizzagate.

Fake news were always a problem, but it was multiplied by the "green frog people" and the paid trolls who just make much more and better fake news. Seriously, which gets more attention and hype? Trump putting his hands on a random woman on an airliner or Clinton running a child abuse ring in a place of Satan worship?

There are two ways from here and the journalists won't like either one them:
  • Making everyone (journals, net posters) liable for the factual reality of their factual claims. If you claim something objectively true or false, you are responsible to make it true. Not just for not lying yourself, but you are responsible to not spread the lies of other people. If you can't verify it, play safe and don't spread it.
  • Everyone keeps spreading fake news to the point where no one believes anything about anyone except things coming "from the horse's mouth". This is practically the end of journalism as people merely read the publications of "important people" who are somewhat interested in not appearing as total liars.
Sorry media, the "good old times" when only you could spread fake news is over! Pressing Facebook and Twitter to censor opposing fake news while spreading yours won't work, the people will simply switch to another social media or use blogs and forums. As long it's legal to create fake news and there is internet, there is nothing stopping this nonsense.

14 comments:

Provi Miner said...

yellow journalism. Today however you "journalists" who tell a story (using a fact here or there) to create a narrative that blends with their opinion. Long gone are the journalists that reported what happened and left their personal bias on the side lines (mostly you can't ever eradicate it completely). the Switch to coming out and writing/reporting your bias as a fact was Cronkite in tet offensive. The tet offensive essentially killed the gurrilla faction known as the VC. The proof is for the rest of the war the VC were never able to mount an assault on their own ever again. However Conkrite created the bias and led the viewers into his bias. Had he waited 10 days and said "After surprise attacks the VC have been beaten back with massive loss's" the image and shape of the war would have changed. As for Fake news that bothers far less then real news being used a tool to advance particular bias. You actually reported it a few days ago with BLM, the coverage of them, OWS, and the media suck fest over Clinton, shows that real news has no chance: Why tell blacks and America in general about blm when the #1 threat to young black men is other young black men? Why pretend to be fair when reporting on the tea party's every indiscretion while not reporting the rapes, the murder, the racism and the vandalism of the OWS crowd? Why pretend to inform the people when you see angry media trying to trip trump up while a day later those same media spend hours explaining why this Clinton misstep is nothing to worry about?

Anonymous said...

"If you can't verify it, play safe and don't spread it."

Wise words, whether you are a journalist or a blogger.

Slawomir Chmielewski said...

tl;dr: our language is incompatible with truth.

"If you can't verify it don't spread it" sounds like a good idea but it isn't.
Nobody but the source can verify it. So, does it mean I can't quote the original article on my blog? does it mean I can't link to the original article in my blog? Does it mean I can't link to the original website without explicitly mentioning the original article? Does it mean I can't praise the author of the original article, knowing people will google him and find it? Does it mean Google can't index the original article (and nothing else for that matter)? Does it mean that everything I do in the Internet is illegal, cause it does point to a "fake news piece" in one way or another?

As for the truth: outside of maths departments truth does not exist. There are some statements that are hard to disprove and true for most practical purposes, but there is nothing in the real world that fulfills the mathematical definition of "true".
The problem is that true or false is binary. Our thinking and language is not. Whenever you hear a phrase (say "child abuse") you have millions of neurons light up in your brain. This is what "child abuse" means to you. It is not one thing, it is an idea represented by neural networks, each slightly different. We can create a legal definition of abuse, but the definition itself is subject to the same problem of language and understanding. Sure, there are cases where we all agree abuse took place, but no matter how good the law is there will always be borderline cases which are impossible to be either true or false. I can write in my blog that Trump is a child abuser, then when pressed for details say I saw him 10 years ago spanking his son, which constitutes child abuse (it does in some countries). However, when most people hear "child abuse" they think about sexual abuse or at least serious beatings. Who is to judge if I was right?

You can see it yourself in the reporting of elections. Both sides call each other "fake news", both sides believe when they say it and both sides are right and wrong at the same time! When truth depends on interpretation then a statement can be both true and false at the same time.

The only way is to let people judge for themselves. The ones who repeatedly report "fake news" will be caught often enough to lose their credibility, as was always the case. The lamestream media of yesteryear were well respected because they spoke truth for the most part and at least tried to verify. They don't anymore. This election showed that NYT is no better than InfoWars and worse at many points (not everybody in InfoWars is a lunatic like Alex Jones, but everybody in NYT is vetted by the editor who will not allow any dissent. In the end InfoWars has more outrageous fake news but also some real news, while NYT has no truth whatsoever, but the lies there are usually only part lies and omissions).

dobablo said...

Big no. While I hate fake news it must always be legal to lie, with the exception of very limited situations (court rooms, tribunals, contracts, fraud). Lying is a very human activity, but my lies should risk a social penalty not risk a criminal one. Lies should be challenged, not to suppressed. The problem surrounding fake news is only that we are out of step with current technology. We need methods to highlight and validate the original source or opinion on which an article is based and a reasonable method to ensure that corrections, withdrawals, updates and errata reach the same audience as the original piece.

Fake news is bad, but actions to stamp it out are nearly always worse. Threats to punish lies deter true statements and heartfelt opinions. An ideal world would be composed of many voices, where statements are challenged and the most convincing and evidence supported facts win out. Our current world is one of echo chambers where the loudest and most repeated statements are upheld as post-truth facts for our isolationist communities. The fix cannot be to force everyone to speak a single authority-approved "truth."
Fake-news laws have traditionally failed because they get enforced in a partisan way and used to suppress opinions with which the government disagreed. The US habit of introducing then reversing sedition laws every hundred years makes quite an interesting case-study.

Jacek Kaliszuk said...

Simpler said then done. I don't think you can effectively police the Internet.

Western law systems were designed and developed to tackle problems that appear when you deal with real objects. Ownership of land, material objects, inheritance etc. Internet is very different medium.

For example, the concept of territorial jurisdiction that works very well in real world totally breaks apart once you get online. If you prosecute certain type of service, like "distribution" of fakenews, in US I can still provide it from abroad. You can try to size my profits on US soil, but it requires international agreement to hit me if I am financed by party not present on US soil. Even if that happens I can simply move my base of operations abroad... to Russia perhaps ;)

Look at Pirate Bay or other services of that type. Its a legislative nightmare to prosecute owners of those services and usually its even illegal to do so, because they usually don't even break any laws themselves.

That's one thing. The other is that people probably don't want this content gone. Everybody knows Pirate Bay is illegal. We still love it, because we can steal someones intellectual property with minimal chance of getting caught. We are so used to it, that we start to create moral arguments for "freedom of information" and how data should be free and widely available, to mask the fact that we are thieves stealing someones private property.

Everybody want fakenews gone, but not ~their~ fakenews, because breaking ~their~ fakenews is infringement upon freedom of speech, freedom of press etc. And to be honest its true.

Solution is not the legislative route. Quite the opposite. Its deregulation of public discourse. Sure, fakenews might surface, but they can be debunked very quickly. So the issue are not fakenews, but access to opposite voices. Atm facebook policy is to create echo chambers.

Seriously. Internet is quite clever. When you allow public discourse to happen without placing any limits on it, bullshit gets called out - in comments, on subreddits, forums, even on other news outlets.

Gevlon said...

@Slawomir: everyone can verify that 1+1=2. It's not impossible to check for original testimonies or check out objects with your own eyes.

"Child abuse" might be opinionated, "grabbed child and removed his pants" is objective.

@Dobablo: we can't challenge 12415131 lies. We either block all communication in fear of being lies (for example I don't go to 4chan) or we believe blindly. Lies (and ignorant statements) bring nothing to the World.

@Jacek: in Hungary, the ISPs are mandated to block Nazi and libelous content. It doesn't disappear from the internet, but you get 404 if you try to access it.

Slawomir Chmielewski said...

@Gevlon: as I said: outside of maths. 1+1=2 because we defined 1, 2, + and = to be this way.

"Grabbed child and removed his pants": what is pants? in US it means trousers, while in UK it is a part of underwear. As you can see this one simple statement can be true and false at the same time. What is grabbed? was it violent? what is a child? is it a 16year old consenting teenager or a 6 year old? maybe the child was his own daughter and he was changing the nappies?
Our language always leaves something undefined. Which is why any legislation pertaining speech is always bad. Let everyone say whatever they want and hope for the best.
Now, what can be regulated is finances of the people who are making the speech. These days there should be no newspapers, TV channels or anything like that. The technology is so advanced that we simply don't need organizations to run news. It should be solely done by individuals, the way YouTube bloggers work. A camera costs $200, internet is practically free. Printing press is obsolete when it comes to news.
Now, while language cannot be regulated in a satisfactory way, finances can be. If the news are run by individuals, those individuals may be obligated to reveal their sources of income, with periodic checks by IRS or a similar agency. If an individual has a daytime job and a bit of income from YT advertisement, we can trust his honesty to some extent. Yes, he might be wrong, but most likely as a result of being an idiot. Idiotic honesty is much easier to spot than intelligent lies.
There will be some news aggregates, but they will be no more than YouTube is today. Associated Press and similar agencies are just as obsolete as blacksmithing. Trump and his direct tweets will only speed up the process. In my opinion he should entirely remove press from his office. No conferences, no private exclusive interviews. He makes statements via White House website. Everyone can ask a question by an email (with a lot of staff to sift through the rubbish). Any interview is more like a debate: life and with questions arriving through various channels.
Cut all the heads of the hydra with one swift strike. The lamestream media with its shady ownership is the biggest threat to freedom these days. Cut them out of the loop entirely.

Gevlon said...

Some of you missed the point: I didn't say "censor fake news", I said "either censor fake news or accept the end of journalism". I think the second will happen.

99smite said...

OMG!
@ provi miner: the US did not lose the Vietnam War because of a false article about the Tet offensive.
The US forces got beaten and they got beaten hard, so hard that the public opinion switched and forced the government to end that disgraceful war. That was the last time American society proved to the world that they would stand for their values.

@ Slawomir Chmielewski: stop playing stupid semantic games here. Child abuse is a term that is legally defined. If someone understands other things, fine, but that does not matter! If we would for one second fall for your argument that everyone understands anything under a specific term, then no communication was ever possible and language is no linger needed, only the middle finger as that is understood world wide... As a gesture of greeting...

But first things first:
I am so thrilled that Gevlon chose this topic. Only yesterday, German politicians come out and publicly demanded that the creation and spreading of fake news should be punished as a criminal offense, since it could endanger the next federal elections in Germany which are going to be held next fall.
This is ridiculous as creating and spreading fake news is already a criminal offense in cases where the news are used to disgrace other people and harm their reputation or wrongfully accuse them of criminal behaviour. The only problem today is that Zuckerbergs media imperium covers these kinds of liars and refuses to cooperate with the prosecutors.

For years trolls on FB were able to tell other morons to gas the jews, to burn the refugees or their housings, to rape or kill this or that politician... With no consequence, although such behaviour is a criminal offense in Germany.

Now, when their precious seat in parliament is in danger, politicians unite and plan action against such hate posters... This is laughable!

Jacek Kaliszuk said...

You missed the end of journalism.

I missed it too.

Then I've seen media coverage of US elections. Jesus Christ, what a shit show.

Provi Miner said...

@99 smite please read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tet_Offensive about the middle of the second paragraph.

In this instance perception (incorrect btw) created the reality that led to the North's Victory.

99smite said...

@ Provi Miner:

Which perception proved to be incorrect? Westmoreland and his PR crew deemed it impossible that the north vietnamese could pull such a thing off. BTW, the North Vietnamese used mostly south vietnamese insurgents and in doing so, got rid of most of the future opposition.
Fact is, that the North Vietnamese forces were capable of launching an attack any time anywhere, despite Westmoreland reporting that victory was at hand... BULLSHIT!

The French thought the same in Dien Bien Phu: that the Vietminh were not able to transport heavy artillery through the jungle and on top of the mountains surrounding the valley of Dien Bien Phu. Result? The Frenche were blasted to pieces and were ultimately defeated by "stone age farmers with no weapon training, armed with old carbines and muck rakes"...

Up until today, the US high command has failed to understand how asymetrical warfare works. They failed in Afghanistan, they failed in Iraq... No real or fake news can change that.

If you are interested in fake news, simply follow how the conflict in Syria is reported in western news. Then compare such news with facts, like how peaceful was Syrian civil life before the uprising, if ISIS or Al Nusra were present in Syria before the uprising and so on. When you look at all these facts unbiased, you will find out that Putin has a point or two about his views on Syria...

Gevlon is totally right that "established media" are afraid of losing the monopoly of dictating the narrative. This is one reason why DTrump communicates mostly via twitter... No middle man! No idiotic journalist who adds his bias or falsely cites his source...

dobablo said...

Good journalists do take responsibility for what they broadcast. They fact check, verify sources and, where possible, declare sources and find an independent subject matter expert to comment. That costs time and money when the audience want their news free and as soon as it happens. Good journalists are at a competitive disadvantage against news aggregators, opinion leaders and fake news generators. That is quite a problem for democratic societies which need a functional independent press to operate smoothly.
As repeatedly pointed out in the comments, your first scenario is legally unenforceable but groups frequently follow voluntary standards in an attempt to raise the overall standard of their industry and increase consumer trust. The request is not to censor fake news for the aggregators and third party distributors to stop treating articles written to high journalistic standards as equal to gutter-press unchecked items or opinion pieces. Technologies are improving to allow fact check items, validation routines, error reporting and opinion flagging. If tech providers are going to push news feeds then they should voluntarily accept the responsibility for their broadcasts in the way that good journalists already do and invest in technology that makes it easier for them to do so.

Anonymous said...

I think that outright lies in news should be illegal. But a news could still be deceitful and damaging even if technically true.

For example, you could alter the following (assumingly) untrue statement like this:

"Hillary is guilty of child abuse" -> "Hillary suspected of child abuse"
The latter is technically true as long as there is at least one person who believes it.

So about those 2 ways; both could happen.