Monday, February 5, 2018


We are going though a period when so-called partisanship
is provoking widespread allegations that virtually everything
being communicated is “fake,” a lie, a misrepresentation,
false --- and even worse, a calumny, a conspiracy, abusive
or defamatory.

“Fake news” is the trendy phrase of the moment, as is the
assertion “all politicians lie.”

What do we, as individuals and consumers of so much
contemporary communications in the conventional media,
social media and internet, as well as face-to-face discourse
and conversation, make of this?

I suggest  it might be useful to step back and re-examine
just what communications, media, political discourse and
our ubiquitous private conversations about public life
truly are.

To begin with, "the media" is a relatively young institution.
Newspapers and books didn’t exist until about a little more
than half a millennium ago. All early newspapers were little
more than crude propaganda tools --- hyper-fake news, if
will. Until only a few decades ago, newspapers remained so.
(Some assert they continue so to the present day.)

Broadcast media are less than a century old, and films
only a bit older then that, but neither any more provably
“honest” than any other form of communications. The
sudden appearance of the internet and social media only
meant that the means of reaching many more persons was
increased. If anything, the original manipulative motive of
news communications was only intensified and expanded.

The bottom line is that virtually all communications, by
whatever means, have always been intended to persuade,
manipulate, and yes, sometimes intimidate.

But, having asserted that, I do not suggest that we must
despair or necessarily be dragooned and bullied by the
news communications around us.

There are, as it is said, “facts on the ground.” Yes, the
manipulative aspect of news communications even tries
to undermine these “facts” with various techniques
(most notoriously the selective use of so-called statistics).
Even visual and photographic facts can be, and are,
routinely distorted.

So what is to be done?

The answer, as I see it, is to decrease one’s dependence on
the claims of others, especially sources and authorities
who have an “axe to grind,” and to rely more and more on
one’s own powers and reources to verify and interpret.

The end-result might not be “truth” (in a very pure and
ultimately impossible sense), but if we are to advance from
the falsity and insincerity which so dominates public life
today, we need to significantly increase the transparency
of public life with a wise and useful restoration of some
(always accountable) privacy.

The real fake dichotomy is that public life must be either
completely transparent or completely secret. The tension
between these extremes is the natural ally exploited by the
pandemic of fake news today. This abstracting human
behavior into verbal paradigms is the enemy of doing
“the right thing in a right way.”

I will no doubt be labelled “naive” for suggesting each and
every citizen increase their personal vigilance for receiving
“news.” But what is the alternative? At the threshold of an
age of artificial intelligence and even more unprecedented
communications techniques, it’s still the best, and perhaps
the only, defense we have.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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