Fight against disinformation

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - June 2, 2018 - 12:00am

One can easily be deceived between what is fake news and real news. Recently, at least in FB, there was a colorful post of CNN burning, that it was financially in trouble with 30 percent fall in its readership. That is not difficult to believe because media, whether print or broadcast, had lost its allure. People rather made and read their own news in social media.

Just a few days before this post a former CNN staffer captioned a picture: where are these people, all staffers and broadcasters of CNN in its golden years? “the year was 2001. The world had begun changing due to 9/11. CNN’s Asia Headquarters in Hongkong would never be the same. Can someone put names on all those who were in the picture and tell us where they are now? ” I only knew my daughter’s face and put it down for those who wanted to know where she is now. She could have gone to work in Qatar but as she said, been there. Done that. She opened herself to the entire world and its possibilities. She decided instead to look for jobs were she could be more useful. Today she is working with Nobel laureates to the work on the Rohingya refugees. Not a very glamorous job but as she said, I am doing something useful.

The next time I was trapped in the mire of disinformation it was a story about FVR. It said he had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. I did not believe the story but it was datelined from the Daily Telegraph, which is a big British newspaper. Only later did I find out that even big newspapers are used for false information.

My son asked me, where did you get it? I said FB. Oh, he said you mean Fakebook. This is sad because Facebook was the answer to media owned by oligarchs and are used for their own interests. There is a saying that the press is free if you owned it.

Happily, serious people are taking a more serious look at this phenomenon of false information. But as a New Yorker article said: It is nothing new.

“What we are now calling fake news – misinformation that people fall for – is nothing new. Thousands of years ago, in the Republic, Plato offered up a hellish vision of people who mistake shadows cast on a wall for reality. In the Iliad, the Trojans fell for a fake horse. Shakespeare loved misinformation: in “Twelfth Night,” Viola disguises herself as a man and wins the love of another woman; in “The Tempest,” Caliban mistakes Stephano for a god. And, in recent years, the Nobel committee has awarded several economics prizes to work on “information asymmetry,” “cognitive bias,” and other ways in which the human propensity toward misperception distorts the workings of the world.”

The danger in today’s disinformation has focused on election issues. That it’s realistic to expect our country to be a genuine mass democracy, in which people vote on the basis of facts and truth, as provided to them by the press.

“Plato believed in truth but didn’t believe in democracy. The framers of the American Constitution devised a democratic system shot through with restrictions: only a limited portion of the citizenry could vote, and even that subset was permitted to elect only state and local politicians and members of the House of Representatives, not senators or Presidents. In guaranteeing freedom of the press, the framers gave a pass to fake news, since back then the press was mainly devoted to hot-blooded opinion. They felt protected against a government that came to power through misinformation, because the country wasn’t very democratic, and because they assumed most people would simply vote their economic interests.”

But in the 20th century it isn’t as simple as that with complex societies like the United States. People began to worry that mass media and professional journalism would give rise to the fake news problem.

Nicholas Lemann, author of the New Yorker article says the issue became a choice down either on the side of restricting democracy or restricting the media. (As American democracy came to include a greater number of people – former slaves, immigrants, and women – élites, including liberal élites, began to find it more worrisome.) Walter Lippmann began “Public Opinion,” published in 1922, with a long quotation from Plato’s cave parable, and wound up abandoning the idea that the press or the public could discern and then pay attention to the truth. Instead, he wanted to create “political observatories” – what we’d now call think tanks – that would feed expert advice to grateful, overwhelmed politicians, relegating both the press and the public to secondary roles in government policymaking.”

Otherwise we cannot continue in the present state of media as a medium of disinformation. What we have is a chaos of disinformation. The public, too busy with their own lives with personal problems, will not bother to know what is true or not true.

Society suffers when politicians employ those who can be articulate in disinformation. Communications suffer and politics becomes becomes even a greater joke when policies are guided by who is best in disinformation.

That will be a pity because good policies cannot be crafted or enunciated in such an atmosphere, not only in the United States or the Philippines, but in the whole world. So what is the point?

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