Monday, September 23, 2019

The World Mood: Surly and Distrustful

British journalist William Davies asks why nobody trusts the media:
A recent survey found that the majority of people globally believe their society is broken and their economy is rigged. Both the left and the right feel misrepresented and misunderstood by political institutions and the media, but the anger is shared by many in the liberal center, who believe that populists have gamed the system to harvest more attention than they deserve. Outrage with “mainstream” institutions has become a mass sentiment. . . .

The appearance of digital platforms, smartphones and the ubiquitous surveillance they enable has ushered in a new public mood that is instinctively suspicious of anyone claiming to describe reality in a fair and objective fashion. It is a mindset that begins with legitimate curiosity about what motivates a given media story, but which ends in a Trumpian refusal to accept any mainstream or official account of the world. . . .

The current threat to democracy is often seen to emanate from new forms of propaganda, with the implication that lies are being deliberately fed to a naive and over-emotional public. The simultaneous rise of populist parties and digital platforms has triggered well-known anxieties regarding the fate of truth in democratic societies. Fake news and internet echo chambers are believed to manipulate and ghettoise certain communities, for shadowy ends. Key groups – millennials or the white working-class, say – are accused of being easily persuadable, thanks to their excessive sentimentality.
But, says Davies, this is wrong. Very few people are actually insulated from mainstream news, or dependent entirely on extreme voices. Many Trump voters and Brexiteers are quite well informed on what the mainstream media say, they just refuse to believe it.
This diagnosis exaggerates old-fashioned threats while overlooking new phenomena. Over-reliant on analogies to 20th century totalitarianism, it paints the present moment as a moral conflict between truth and lies, with an unthinking public passively consuming the results. But our relationship to information and news is now entirely different: it has become an active and critical one, that is deeply suspicious of the official line. Nowadays, everyone is engaged in spotting and rebutting propaganda of one kind or another, curating our news feeds, attacking the framing of the other side and consciously resisting manipulation. In some ways, we have become too concerned with truth, to the point where we can no longer agree on it. The very institutions that might once have brought controversies to an end are under constant fire for their compromises and biases.
Where this ends up, I have no clue. But I think a complete disappearance of any shared account of the world is quite possible, especially as digital fakery gets better and better.


Shadow said...

"In some ways, we have become too concerned with truth, to the point where we can no longer agree on it."

No, not too concerned with the truth, but not concerned enough. Truth has been supplanted with a highly stylized political rhetoric that ignores means to achieve ends . . . and it takes no prisoners. It's really quite unpleasant and unsustainable.

JustPeachy said...

It's not complicated: We're still looking at the news, and the news doesn't reflect what we're actually living with here on the ground.

When was the last time you saw a headline about the metastasizing humanitarian disaster that is the Bahamas right now? It hasn't tickled my newsfeed since a week or two after Dorian passed (and only because I was LOOKING for it). But I know people who know people who've taken boatloads of supplies out there, and it is unspeakable. They haven't even got the functioning equipment, cadaver dogs, and manpower to find and bury the bodies. The official death toll is fifty-something right now, but the real number is far higher than that, according to folks who've been there smelling it. 1300 people still missing.

When was the last time you heard about Hurricane Michael? "Michael who?" you might ask, if you get your news from CNN. Yes, the Florida Panhandle got a CATEGORY 5 hurricane just last October. It hit us, so I know! That sucker completely trashed three counties. That disappeared from the news in what? Three days? Meanwhile, a year later, we're still living it. Every time it gets even the briefest mention in national news, it makes the social media circuit here like wildfire: because of the blatant inaccuracy. Months later, we'd still get an occasional mention, where the storm would be reported as a "Cat 3" (thanks, GMA!), or worse, they'd report on subsequent hurricanes as "the strongest storm to threaten the US since Andrew in 1992" and folks back here in the Panhandle all yelling "You sh*theads! Cat 5, right here, direct hit, IN OCTOBER". The message from the NYC news centers is clear: "Your entire part of the country may as well not exist. We certainly don't give a crap about it."

If you want to get a feel for that, run a quick search for "The land mass between New Orleans and Mobile"-- it is a long-running, and totally accurate joke about how national media treats any place that isn't a major metropolitan area. Pass Christian pretty much washed away in Hurricane Katrina (much like Mexico Beach in Michael). It's a town in MISSISSIPPI. But if you were watching the nat'l news at the time, you could be forgiven for not realizing MS was even affected by the storm. Nat'l news anchors have a hard time remembering that MS has a coastline at all.

Meanwhile, I *still* see the occasional article about the Very Important Ramifications of Hurricane Sandy. We strongly suspect that the only reason anyone knows about that piddly rain shower is because it happened to Very Important People in New York. Because New York people are the Most Important People. You dig?

Shadow said...

Coverage of serious matters further from home is even worse.There is all kinds of stuff going on outside the U.S. that should matter to us but isn't covered. For example, I wouldn't be surprised if one day we wake up to a newspaper informing us that ISIS has seized control of a couple of islands in the Philippine archipelago. The group is causing all kinds of havoc in the southern islands, and it's a big deal, yet nary a word from many news outlets, and certainly not Cable News.

G. Verloren said...

When nearly all news media - both fringe and mainstream - is dominated by the Capitalist imperative to seek profit, rather than the Humanist imperative to improve society, this is where we end up.

Our news cycle is insane. The things we choose to report on are insane. Everyone is trying to pump out a constant stream of news content around the clock, regardless of quality or relevance. Everyone is chasing the algorithm.


We don't value informative news anymore. Literally all that matters is maximizing clicks, pageviews, and "engagement" with the content.

Media companies want to put out as much content as possible; get as many eyes looking at it as possible; get as many people clicking on it as possible; get as many people sharing it as possible; get as many people commenting on it as possible.

And the thing is, they don't give a damn what those comments actually are. A single insightful, thoughtful, constructive comment by a knowledgeable person is worth far less to them than 10 wrong-headed, brainless, destructive comments by drooling imbeciles.

Why? Because all that anyone cares about is raw numbers. They want to be able to point to their website and tell advertisers that they can provide 10 times the "engagement" that a competitor can, and they have the numbers to prove it.


And so we get clickbait headlines and articles - quickly put together, intentionally inflamatory or controversial garbage that is meant to offend or annoy people enough to motivate them into commenting, and ideally getting into an argument and continuing to comment.

Instead of quality articles that take time to produce, the system favors trash articles that can be pumped out continuously and are interchangeable.

Instead of quality "engagement" where well behaved people take the time to share meaningful opinions to have a real discussion, the system favors an unruly mob of people shouting over each other angrily at lightning speed, because a cat walking across a keyboard is given the exact same value as an intelligent comment.


Capitalism is killing our society. All of our social imperatives are being warped to favor models of greed and profit, at the expense of a working society.