The Resistance Reports
March 9, 2017
The Internet failed to prevent the arrival of “The Post Truth Age” and in fact, is the life blood for such post truth age characteristic as “Fake News” & “Lying Internet Trolls & Bot.” And facts, truth & reality, are foundations for Democracy, Liberty/Freedom, Justice & Human Rights.
Post-truth politics (also called post-factual politics) is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Post-truth differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of truth by rendering it of “secondary” importance. While this has been described as a contemporary problem, there is a possibility that it has long been a part of political life, but was less notable before the advent of the Internet. In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell cast a world in which the state changes historic records daily to fit its propaganda goals of the day.
Political commentators have identified post-truth politics as ascendant in Russian, Chinese, American, Australian, British, Indian, Japanese and Turkish politics, as well as in other areas of debate, driven by a combination of the 24-hour news cycle, false balance in news reporting, and the increasing ubiquity of social media. In 2016, “post-truth” was chosen as the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year, due to its prevalence in the context of that year’s Brexit referendum and U.S. presidential election.
According to Oxford Dictionaries, the term post-truth was first used in a 1992 essay by the late Serbian-American playwright Steve Tesich in The Nation. Tesich writes that following the shameful truth of Watergate, more assuaging coverage of the Iran–Contra scandal and Persian Gulf War demonstrate that “we, as a free people, have freely decided that we want to live in some post-truth world.” In 2004, Ralph Keyes used the term “post-truth era” in his book by that title. The same year American journalist Eric Alterman spoke of a “post-truth political environment” and coined the term “the post-truth presidency” in his analysis of the misleading statements made by the Bush administration after 9/11. In his 2004 book Post-democracy, Colin Crouch used the phrase “post-democracy” to mean a model of politics where “elections certainly exist and can change governments,” but “public electoral debate is a tightly controlled spectacle, managed by rival teams of professionals expert in the techniques of persuasion, and considering a small range of issues selected by those teams.” Crouch directly attributes the “advertising industry model” of political communication to the crisis of trust and accusations of dishonesty that a few years later others have associated with post-truth politics.
The term “post-truth politics” was coined by the blogger David Roberts in a blog post for Grist on 1 April 2010, where it was defined as “a political culture in which politics (public opinion and media narratives) have become almost entirely disconnected from policy (the substance of legislation)”. The term became widespread during the campaigns for the 2016 presidential election in the United States and the 2016 referendum on membership in the European Union in the United Kingdom. Oxford Dictionaries declared that its international word of the year in 2016 is “post-truth”, citing a 2,000% increase in usage compared to 2015.
Jennifer Hochschild, H.L. Jayne Professor of Government at Harvard University, has described the rise of post-truth as a return to 18th and 19th century political and media practices in the United States, following a period in the 20th century where the media was relatively balanced and rhetoric was toned down. The pamphlet wars that arose with the growth of printing and literacy beginning in the 1600s have been described as an early form of post-truth politics. Slanderous and vitriolic pamphlets were cheaply printed and widely disseminated, and the dissent that they fomented led to wars and revolutions such as the English Civil War and the American War of Independence.
Fake news is a type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation, be it via the traditional news media or via social media, with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically. It often employs eye-catching headlines or entirely fabricated news-stories in order to increase readership and, in the case of internet-based stories, online sharing. In the latter case, profit is made in a similar fashion to clickbait and relies on ad-revenue generated regardless of the veracity of the published stories. Easy access to ad-revenue, increased political polarization and the ubiquity of social media, primarily the Facebook newsfeed have been implicated in the spread of fake news. Anonymously hosted websites lacking known publishers have also been implicated, because they make it difficult to prosecute sources of fake news for libel or slander.
Fake news has been defined as news which is “completely made up and designed to deceive readers to maximize traffic and profit”.
The intention and purpose behind the piece is important. What appears to be fake news may in fact be news satire, which uses exaggeration and introduces non-factual elements, and is intended to amuse or make a point, rather than to deceive. Fake news may actually be convincing fiction, such as the radio dramatisation of H.G. Wells‘ novel The War of the Worlds, broadcast in 1938; or it may be one of the variety of possible hoaxes. Propaganda can also be fake news.
In the context of the United States and its election processes in the twenty-first century, fake news generated considerable controversy and argument, with some commentators defining concern over it as moral panic or mass hysteria and others deeply worried about damage done to public trust.
The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) published a summary in diagram form to assist people to recognise fake news. Its main points are:
- Consider the source (to understand its mission and purpose)
- Read beyond the headline (to understand the whole story)
- Check the authors (to see if they are real and credible)
- Assess the supporting sources (to ensure they support the claims)
- Check the date of publication (to see if the story is relevant and up to date)
- Ask if it is a joke (to determine if it is meant to be satire)
- Review your own biases (to see if they are affecting your judgement)
- Ask experts (to get confirmation from independent people with knowledge).
The independent, not-for-profit media journal The Conversation created a very short animated explanation of its fact checking process, explaining that it involves “extra checks and balances, including blind peer review by a second academic expert, additional scrutiny and editorial oversight”.
But is the situation bleak to the point of anticipating that the internet will just become a tool for an Orwell 1984 type of society?
Nineteen Eighty-Four, often published as 1984, is a dystopian novel published in 1949 by English author George Orwell. The novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public manipulation. The superstate and its residents are dictated to by a political regime euphemistically named English Socialism, shortened to “Ingsoc” in Newspeak, the government’s invented language. The superstate is under the control of the privileged elite of the Inner Party, a party and government that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as “thoughtcrime“, which is enforced by the “Thought Police“.
The tyranny is ostensibly overseen by Big Brother, the Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality, but who may not even exist. The Party “seeks power entirely for its own sake. It is not interested in the good of others; it is interested solely in power.” The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, is a member of the Outer Party, who works for the Ministry of Truth (or Minitrue in Newspeak), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. His job is to rewrite past newspaper articles, so that the historical record always supports the party line. The instructions that the workers receive portray the corrections as fixing misquotations and never as what they really are: forgeries and falsifications. A large part of the Ministry also actively destroys all documents that have not been edited and do not contain the revisions; in this way, no proof exists that the government is lying. Smith is a diligent and skillful worker but secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother. The heroine of the novel, Julia, is based on Orwell’s second wife, Sonia Orwell.
As literary political fiction and dystopian science-fiction, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a classic novel in content, plot and style. Many of its terms and concepts, such as Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime, Newspeak, Room 101, telescreen, 2 + 2 = 5, and memory hole, have entered into common use since its publication in 1949. Nineteen Eighty-Four popularised the adjective Orwellian, which describes official deception, secret surveillance, and manipulation of recorded history by a totalitarian or authoritarian state. In 2005, the novel was chosen by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels from 1923 to 2005. It was awarded a place on both lists of Modern Library 100 Best Novels, reaching number 13 on the editor’s list, and 6 on the readers’ list. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 8 on the BBC‘s survey The Big Read.
The following are two arguments.
The Independent says By publishing data on government activity, and promoting interaction with and between citizens, digital technology is changing statecraft for the better. Harvard says the Internet, argues Cass Sunstein, has had a polarizing effect on democracies. Although it has the capacity to bring people together, too often the associations formed online comprise self-selecting groups with little diversity of opinion,
The following is from the Independent (Source)
How the internet is transforming democracy
We are living in the Digital Age and in the same way that the internet can transform economies by allowing companies to work more efficiently, it can also change the relationship between governments and citizens – for the better.
The increased involvement of people in political debate is evident on an even greater scale on social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. The internet allows for greater freedom of expression, facilitating citizens’ ability to challenge and criticise: a basic democratic right. These social media sites also have the power to actually bring democracy about – the Egyptian Revolution 2011 being a prime example.
MEPs use the internet, including social media, to keep constituents up to date on their work. My office updates my website regularly and I am inundated with emails on a daily basis from constituents asking for help and advice and I do my best to solve the problems using my influence as an MEP. I also receive many emails offering views on topical debates in Europe, all of which I take into account when I vote. This swift communication and exchange of views depends upon the internet.
Free access to online news means people are becoming better informed on current affairs. A free media has always played an important role in supporting democracy in Britain and it is now more accessible than ever before. I hope that the Leveson Inquiry can rebuild public confidence in the press and our politicians.
This digital age is empowering citizens. People, becoming more knowledgeable, can make informed decisions on matters ranging from their family’s healthcare to travel. By putting public data online the government is becoming increasingly transparent and so more accountable which again works in the people’s favour.
We must, however, be careful. This modern ‘open-data’ approach is not straightforward. The government must be in a position to guarantee where appropriate that online communications are secure and that they do not violate people’s privacy. Much of my work in Brussels recently has been focusing on the issue of Data Protection.
I am a Shadow Rapporteur on both the Regulation and the Directive which are going through Parliamentary scrutiny at the moment. The Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) Committee is leading on this and the indications are that a high level of data protection for citizens is gaining much support amongst Members. The approach we are taking will set new standards for all businesses, not just Facebook, Twitter and Google. The new regime will reverse the burden of proof – now it will be companies who will have to justify why they need to retain our data (and not the other way round as is common now).
This will, I’m sure, have a very positive impact on consumer confidence. There is still statistical data which shows that people are still afraid to do business on the internet which is a shame. The online experience worries a lot of us because we’re not truly confident that the data we use (banking information, personal details etc.) is really safe.
If we can foster greater confidence in the system, people are more likely to embrace the internet as a place of information exchange. This is of utmost importance for by being online governments can function more efficiently. Everything can be done more quickly and cheaply online such as tax returns and the registering of businesses which at a time when funds are short is especially welcome. Switching to E-Procurement, for instance, could save 100 billion Euros a year!
The following is from Harvard Magazine (source)
The Internet: Foe of Democracy?
The Internet, argues Cass Sunstein, has had a polarizing effect on democracies. Although it has the capacity to bring people together, too often the associations formed online comprise self-selecting groups with little diversity of opinion, explains the Frankfurter professor of law. This confounds the constitutional vision of the founding fathers through a perversion of the notion of free speech. Such environments reinforce preexisting viewpoints, undermining the constructive dialogue that promotes progress in democracies.
Speaking on September 17—Constitution Day—Sunstein (who is bound for Washington; see Brevia, page 51) said the founders made only one “truly original contribution” to constitutional thought. Their predecessors, influenced by Montesquieu, thought that successful self-government required everyone to be alike. The founders, in contrast, believed heterogeneity and diversity constitute a creative force. “When Hamilton explained the system of checks and balances with what he called ‘the jarring of opinions’ in the legislative branch,” Sunstein noted, “he said that it promotes circumspection and deliberation, and serves to check the excesses of the majority.” This idea “turns traditional republican thought on its head.”
Protection of free speech is one element allowing Hamilton’s “jarring of opinions” to succeed. But Sunstein worries that the conception of free speech emerging in today’s communications market emphasizes “an architecture of control…by which each of us can select a [customized] free-speech package.” Google News asks, “[W]hy not set up your pages to show you the stories that best represent your interests?” The New York Times offers “Mytimes”; Amazon and Netflix employ collaborative filtering to ensure “a kind of personalization…by which your communications universe can be yours.” (MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte first identified this “daily me.”) The resulting self-segregation creates numerous small republics of like-minded individuals of the sort Montesquieu preferred, but the founders considered “destructive of self-government….”
Sunstein buttresses his argument with data from three studies he has worked on in the last decade. In the first, he and colleagues assembled a group of liberal-minded citizens from Boulder and a separate group of conservatives from Colorado Springs to discuss climate change, same-sex civil unions, and affirmative action. “We were particularly interested,” he says, “in finding what would happen to the private, anonymous statements of views expressed” before and after the discussions. On each issue, the like-minded groups became more extreme and the internal diversity of views “evaporated,” Sunstein reports. Pre-deliberation, for example, some liberals wanted to know more about the costs, especially for the poor, of an agreement to reduce greenhouse gases, and some conservatives were open to same-sex civil unions. Post-deliberation, the diversity of views on all three issues dropped precipitously.
Sunstein found a similar effect within juries, and even among federal judges on courts of appeals panels. When comparing the voting records of judicial appointees, the split between Democratic- or Republican-appointed judges increased from 10 percent on mixed panels to 30 percent on panels consisting exclusively of single-party appointees.
These findings suggest, he says, that free speech is not enough to ensure a healthy democracy. Important as well are “unchosen serendipitous, sometimes disliked encounters with diverse ideas and topics,” as well as “shared communications experiences that unify people across differences.” Public spaces such as city parks and sidewalks provide the “architecture of serendipity” that fosters chance encounters with a “teeming diversity” of ideas. Newspapers, magazines, television, and radio—which Sunstein calls the “great general-interest intermediaries”—played a similar role in the twentieth century. “If you are reading a daily newspaper, not online, the real thing,” he says, “chances are your eyes will come across a photograph or a headline that will attract your interest, produce curiosity, make you read maybe a paragraph, and eventually an article and conceivably change your life”—the sort of thing your Google News feed filters out.
The shared “general-interest intermediaries” not only exposed readers to diverse topics and points of view, but created “a shared experience, a social glue,” Sunstein believes. In their absence, the current system of self-sorting—only 2 percent of Daily Kos readers, for example, are self-identified Republicans—diminishes the serendipity that alerts us to “the occasional, maybe infrequent legitimacy of the concerns of our fellow citizens.”
Yet the “new technologies here are more opportunity than threat,” Sunstein suggests, “and what is limiting the realization of the opportunity is the absence of relevant ideals in the minds of the people who are using and developing and innovating [these] technologies.” For a partial solution to the problem, he says, Americans must “recover our constitutional aspirations as citizens and as providers of information.” While not denying market pressures—“the information we receive is a product of what information we demand”—Sunstein advises seeing the notion of the “daily me” as “a kind of science-fiction story rather than as a utopian ideal.” And, he says, we should create twenty-first-century equivalents of the kinds of public spaces and institutions where diverse people will congregate.
The following are some articles on Social Media and Democracy:
Social media and democracy: critical reflections (source)
The Impact of Social Media on Democracy (source)
Can Social Media Undermine Democracy? (source)
How does social media use influence political participation (source)
Twitter and the transformation of democracy (source)
Social Media and Democracy: Innovations in Participatory Politics (Routledge Research in Political Communication) (source)
Democracy promotion in the age of social media: risks and opportunities (source)