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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

Fake News Isn't The Problem. We Are For Falling For It.

Fake news isn’t the ailment. It’s the symptom.

The problem is education. We’ve tolerated a slow slide in the quality of education over the last few decades, leaving many of our fellow citizens without the basic skills required to participate in or understand the world around them, making them vulnerable to manipulation and misdirection.

Combine that with a dizzying array of media choices and some intentional confusion injected into the system and you have a recipe for poor decision making at multiple levels. At the very least, it leaves a substantial portion of the population at the whim of whatever rumors float their way.

We’ve always had “fake news” in some form or another. We’re gullible people. Ben Franklin would write letters for and against issues under a fake name to be published for all to read. Tobacco companies produced reams of news about the benefits of smoking. And every April 1 every corporation on the planet tries to peddle some fake news in the aim of fun, while hoping you fall for it for a while.

Granted, some “fake news” is hard to spot. When A New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, was writing stories about the dangers of Iraq for the paper, we generally took her words seriously. We went to war in no small part because of those stories. But they were fake stories, planted by the Bush administration, with the aim to intentionally confuse.

Sometimes lazy editors confuse with misleading headlines, and lazy readers don’t read to the end of a story to get a key bit of information. A mistaken impression can linger.

Other “fake news” should raise red flags immediately upon reading a headline with extraordinary claims, a story with no source quoted, or facts and figures being used without sources.

I was taught, mostly by parents but sometimes by others, to question just about everything, and even to return and take another look at prior assumptions later on.

The first lessons were to help me avoid being a sucker for advertisements. We looked at claims made by toy and cereal companies. I was taught that words can have multiple meanings, to look for the asterisk* leading to additional information, and to read the fine print.

This was followed by applying similar critical skills to what I read. I famously complained to my mother that the Weekly Reader was biased in about 3rd grade (and I was right.)

I was taught that ads exist in a phony universe, and each one wanted me to part with my hard earned allowance.

In high school, I got a job working at a radio station and learned a very important lesson: the only thing that mattered was the commercials. All of the songs, the banter, the contests, and so on were all there to get you to the block of commercials.

Management only cared about the piece of paper certifying that the commercials were played when they were scheduled to play. What happened in the other minutes, as far as they were concerned, was filler.

This led me on an eventual path to create my (and advocate for others to create their) own media. Making films, photos, scripts, web pages, animation, radio shows, and so on teaches and informs in multiple ways. We can learn how to edit a video, but also need to learn how messages are created and presented to be effective. And we have to know enough to come up with something worthwhile to say.

Working with children to create media often garnered a similar response regardless of age - “This is a lot of work!” Yes, and it is a key insight. Think of the time and money that goes into making sure we all remember a brand name. Why is so much time, money, and energy spent?

Blaming “fake news” creation is the wrong path. It will remain, and will get more sophisticated especially as artificial intelligence makes it exceedingly difficult to figure out human authorship.

The answer is to challenge ourselves, alas, to become smarter and more resilient. We need the skills to spot the fake news, pat it on its head, and go back to business. We need to learn to recognize it, have doubts, investigate those doubts, and find answers.

A well-educated and informed populace would not be distracted or diverted by false stories and click-bait headlines. But we are.

Citizens trained in healthy skepticism, media literacy, logic, and analytical thought could not be swayed by the untrue. But we are.

Would-be manipulators of the masses would need to generate real, useful, information to get any attention. But they don’t need to.

As Susan B. Anthony once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”**


* Interesting that asterisk contains “risk.”

**Please doubt this attribution.


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Gonna take more than wisen up

All that you say here is true enough. And were it the case that the worst to happen is the marks gets rolled- we could chalk it up to human credulity- say, 'live and learn'- and maybe even have a laugh about it.

But we're dealing with something far more sinister now. And with intervention from other countries, other agencies within other entities, maybe even non-human intelligences, we can't really fathom the threat. And that the target is us, fairly PTSD'd current embodiers of our country's enshrined bedrock human rights, this is a situation of unprecedented peril.

Sort of like the classic Bond(spy) showdown where the hero is faced with a hall of mirrors, hundreds of equally dangerous fractals, and the one with real ammo is using the cacophony for distraction. Except now add in threats from other dimensions. Even some never before seen.

FUBAR- as they said during the last WW.


Partisan reality and weight

It is human to come at the news with a slant of some kind.

It is also human to be either unaware of one's slant, or in denial of it. Both of these human tendencies make detecting what is "fake news" and what is legitimate, hard.

When one has a partisan agenda, as many people do, hope of calmly judging what is "fake" becomes almost impossible.

For me this is exemplified by the Clinton corruption vs Trump corruption stories. If one was a fan of Clinton, stories about her acceptance of millions of dollars from banks in "speaking fees" was not appropriate to be considered in a story about legal corruption or plutocracy, because corruption would damage their chosen horse in the race. So, any story focusing on her speaking fees was thrown in the dustbin with other "fake" stories manufactured by the GOP to discredit her. Its not that anyone was denying that she accepted the payments from Banks. But it was claimed by her partisans that it was irrelevant and an unfair attack to discuss it.

Likewise the legitimate stories documenting Trumps corruption of government. These are declared false by his partisan supporters.

If one was only interested in corruption, and not promoting one candidate or the other, both stories would probably be seen as legitimate. But there is little interest in political stories centered on ideals separate from electoral outcomes.


Past the crossroad, into the night

Your example makes clear, bias is almost always prevalent, even inescapable. I'm arguing we are moving into post-partisan, post politics territory.

To Chris's dumb-down hypotheses: Many things; ignorance, apathy, laziness, greed...got us here. And we're in the dark as to where this will go. Democracy is on the ropes any way you slice it.

All mediated information is disinformation of a kind. The 'commerical' is a vehicle for dupability, and we don't see post capitalistically on the whole. I'm saying we're in a moment of accelerated convolution. Systems failing, a populace flailing, the planet melting down, and extreme opportunism on the rise.

We used to look to God for Salvation, the Holocaust pretty much put the kibosh on that notion. We also used to look to Heroes to swoop in and save the day. Does anyone believe that myth anymore?


The glass ball

No one

ever knows

what is coming

I think that believing one knows the extent of the difficulties to come, gives a feeling of if not control, cynical superiority. In general, the notion seems to be "Better to be despairing and in the know, then optimistic and out of touch."

I am not saying that there is not a lot of possible reasons to be concerned, but the only real reason to be concerned is if one is prepared to do something about the perceived coming onslaught.

As for the big Kibosh, reading the writings of those who survived the Holocaust with their faith intact, makes for interesting reading indeed. More interesting at any rate than Satre or Camus, at least to me.

Personally, omnipotence, omniscience, and goodness always seemed like three things you can't get in one conception of God, but, we have chatted about that before, and you know I personally am willing to give up number one and keep numbers two and three, along with other radical dualists. The all powerful God concept is a favorite straw man among nihilists.


doing something

Our very first test is here - Standing Rock. It is time for us to take action and stand with the protestors, and win. This isn't even Trump at the helm, it is Obama.

A second action might be to lobby Obama to pardon Snowden.

That should warm us up.


Still, I see most of this as symptoms of something ailing, and I'm going to put education (and perhaps parenting) at the top of the list of things the doctor needs to take a look at. I can hear our elders now : "We're you raised in a barn? Who told you you could disrespect someone?"

I have a rule about tabloid news. If it is on the cover of one tabloid, it isn't true. If it is on two, there's a grain of truth in there somewhere. If it is on three, it's likely to be true (and therefore Nixon did meet with those aliens.) Rarely do any tabloid stories rise to the 3-Cover level of truth.

Media Literacy is a big subject, and something that should be an ongoing part of an education in the modern world. We want kids to read and write books, but don't feel it essential for them to create an edited video presentation - a more common form of communication in the 21st c. Not knowing how things are made leaves one vulnerable to manipulation.

There really seems to be a new level of digital snake oil being peddled. We're pretty good, here, at sharing information about scams from questionable businesses. Do those skills apply to what we read as well? I think some need to start looking at what they read the way they check Caller ID before answering. Questionable origin? Skip it?

We can make if difficult from film flam artists to work, but that takes recognizing what they do. The real reason we don't see a wagon pulling into town with mystical spells for sale right now is, I'd argue, that in general we wised up to that scam. We collectively decided to prefer a trusted source for our medicine. Our wisdom made it hard for the snake oil to be sold.


The tipping point of no return

"...symptoms of something ailing..."
To put it mildly...

Also, "Our wisdom made it hard for the snake oil to be sold."
Really? What on Earth do you think religion has been and is?? Wisdom?

This country is religion and corporate driven. And, it will remain that way for a very long time, probably through the era of the tipping point of no return. We should have got those two monkeys off of our backs before now.



We may well be past the point of no return. And believe me, it does not feel like cynical superiority to say this. It feels like woe.

Chris, I hear you about getting a fix in place. But as someone who has spent a fair amount of time in faculty rooms, and also as a parent, in settings with my kids and other families, these groups are no more empowered to make systemic changes than any other. There is the same percentage of people along the arc of awareness as any other group. Some teachers, and parents, are bright lights, and some are incurious, superstitious, spiteful...you name it. Just like the larger flock.

I keeping returning to the idea that the Culture has become addicted to and oblivious to acceleration as a mode rather than a means to an end. It's like this. When you drive somewhere you get there faster but see and hear less of the landscape than if you ride a bicycle. And if you walk you take in even more. It costs you time, but you get real life. The sounds of insects..Patterns of nature..what used to constitute reality.

If you have headphones on you don't hear the birds around you. Even when you take them off it takes time to acclimate. We're acclimated to artificial climates more and more. If a balance could be found between organic and synthetic we'd be less gullible. But we're binging on fake... Fake News. Fake Elections. Fake Solutions.

We could perhaps change it up, but I don't see that we collectively want to. That would take a giant heave and shrug, and the yoke is on pretty damn tight.



"We may well be past the point of no return. And believe me, it does not feel like cynical superiority to say this. It feels like woe."

All of the organized, unionized faked-out believers in the world could not begin to understand the loss of all the things that could have been without them.
I’ll never forgive them.


tip top

Well, we may indeed be beyond the point of no return. That's a bit beyond my more narrow point that the creators of fake news aren't the problem - those that fall for it are.

And having masses fall for lies is a symptom of a systematic failure.

I've run into quite a few people in the last few weeks who are existentially questioning what they are here and what the purpose of life is. I can't help but think that, while a hard phase to undergo, it's healthy and necessary and might quite possibly be that first step in a long term path toward correcting the imbalances.

Part of me would like, right now, to unplug iBrattleboro, sell all my things, and roam. Another part of me says don't get distracted from goals and principals. Somewhere in there is still a hazy dream of maybe reaching "comfortable middle class" sometime in this lifetime.

Going back to fake news, it is tied to capitalism. One of the key pieces of the puzzle is that fake news makes money. people click on it, which leads to revenue. People get paid to produce it. The more outrageous, the more potential profit. Those creating it notice they can direct it and target it to different audiences, and some audiences are more likely to fall for it than others.

But, if it really is point of no return, perhaps we are reaching another sort of tipping point, where people just give up caring or even imagining a better future. (It's a very hard thing to imagine.) At that point, news could be fake or real. Who would care? Why would it matter?


Tip over

The very human notion that we all have a purpose in life is the proverbial dangling of the ever illusive carrot in front of us. It is unreachable. Why? Because the carrot is unreal. No living thing has a purpose in life beyond a mundane goal of surviving second to second.

A purpose in life demands there be predestination. To think that all living things can hold before them a specifically outlined drive to achieve a predetermination already preset for each of themselves is part of our overall belief-syndrome. It means that each of our “purposes” must exists before we do.

It is a form of ‘mass manipulation’ to make them think they have something that doesn’t really exist.

Even in this amazing universe, for all living things on this very planet to be born with a purpose in its life is a rather daunting task.


No porpoises

Well, now we are really drifting, but some scientists now posit that we're just a simulation. And others say we have a multiverse. Combine them and we might be infinite copies of a simulation of what our future selves make us out to be. I think in that case it might be risky to say we don't have a purpose. It's hard to see how something creating a simulation would do so for no reason, or would create entities within that simulation for no purpose.


On Porpoise?

Did you say that on porpoise, or just for the halibut?


Snowdon vs Petraeus

And, so, they want to throw Snowdon in jail and make Petraeus Secretary of State!


iBrattleboro Poll

60 degree temperatures in Brattleboro in February are