Friday, December 2, 2016

Fighting back against the media's 'fake news' hysteria

The 1992 presidential campaign between George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton is often pointed to as the beginning of the end of the dominance of the corporate, formerly "mainstream" media. Remember that we had only the three networks, CNN and print newspapers. They filled their newscasts and pages with stories about the man in the chicken suit at Bush rallies and of Bush famously looking at his watch in one of the debates. By the closing weeks, the Bush campaign had a bumper sticker -- "Annoy the media, re-elect Bush" -- and was hammering the media in an almost Trumpian fashion.

Fueled by people's dissatisfaction, the entire news media landscape changed. Within four years, we had Fox News -- launched entirely as an alternative to liberal media bias -- and MSNBC, talk radio was booming, and the network newscasts and newspapers had begun their long and steady descent in terms of audience that continues today. Later would come blogs and online news sites, which further ate away at the mainstream outlets' audience and exposed their lack of credibility in the process.

So if '92 was the beginning of the end, this year may go down in history as simply the end. The Big Media threw away all rules to take sides in the presidential election and on pressing issues of the day. And after being soundly rejected on Election Day, they are going all-out to undermine the incoming administration. Media outlets such as NBC, CNN and the Washington Post use a simple formula -- work with political allies and each other to coordinate coverage and create a reality or "narrative" that benefits their side. But their problem is that alternative sites such as Breitbart and blogs ruin the narrative by 1) pointing out the dinosaur media's errant or blatantly false reporting, and 2) share facts or opinions that counter those that the Big Media is presenting.

The only way the Old Media can survive now is if they have the new media sites shut down, ostracized, blocked from the internet, etc., so they can retain the monopoly on the nation's discourse they once had. So, they invented the concept of "fake news," which is a label they can slap on anything and anybody they disapprove of. And they're more than willing to manufacture their own false evidence to apply the label. As Glenn Greenwald and Ben Norton reported at The Intercept last weekend:
THE WASHINGTON POST on Thursday night promoted the claims of a new, shadowy organization that smears dozens of U.S. news sites that are critical of U.S. foreign policy as being “routine peddlers of Russian propaganda.” The article by reporter Craig Timberg — headlined “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say” — cites a report by an anonymous website calling itself PropOrNot, which claims that millions of Americans have been deceived this year in a massive Russian “misinformation campaign.”

The group’s list of Russian disinformation outlets includes WikiLeaks and the Drudge Report, as well as Clinton-critical left-wing websites such as Truthout, Black Agenda Report, Truthdig, and Naked Capitalism, as well as libertarian venues such as Antiwar.com and the Ron Paul Institute.

This Post report was one of the most widely circulated political news articles on social media over the last 48 hours, with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of U.S. journalists and pundits with large platforms hailing it as an earth-shattering exposé. It was the most-read piece on the entire Post website on Friday after it was published. [...]

So the story spread in a flash, like wildfire. Tens of thousands of people, perhaps hundreds of thousands or even millions, consumed it, believing that it was true because of how many journalists and experts told them it was. Virtually none of the people who told them this spent a minute of time or ounce of energy determining if it was true. It pleased them to believe it was, knowing it advanced their interests, and so they endorsed it. That is the essence of how fake news functions, and it is the ultimate irony that this Post story ended up illustrating and spreading far more fake news than it exposed.
The Washington Post is far from the only media organization to try to "out" alternative sites. An obscure assistant college professor's blacklist of supposed "fake news" sites has prompted Google and Facebook to try to restrict advertising on the sites in an attempt to shut them down. Just this week, Apple removed Breitbart's app from its app store (before relenting because of public pressure) and Kellogg's announced that it would pull advertising from Breitbart because its 45 million readers aren't "aligned with our values as a company."

Whatever anyone's political leanings are, this kind of un-American attempt at corporate censorship needs to be fiercely and vehemently opposed. But how do we fight back if some of our favorite sites are somehow blocked by our browser or hidden or labeled as "fake" by Facebook? Here are some steps we should all be taking:

Sign up on Gab. Gab is a new social media platform that promises a freer forum than the heavy-handed Twitter, which suspends people that don't subscribe to the Orthodoxy. You can tell it's hitting a nerve with the Old Media guard, because the New York Times called it a "digital safe space" for the "far right". The more people who sign up, the closer we can get to a tipping point at which web outlets include a button to post directly to the service.

Sign up for email newsletters. Most online news outlets from Breitbart and Fox News to the Capital Press offer daily e-newsletters from which you can click on their stories directly from your inbox, bypassing the gatekeepers of Google and Facebook. InfoWars is actually touting theirs as an antidote to the coming censorship wave, if there is to be one.

When possible, use browsers that don't discriminate. If in the coming weeks or months you start having difficulty getting to your favorite websites because they're blocked or hidden, don't hesitate to use a different browser. The same with search engines. It's been well-documented that Google, for instance, only lists the news outlets they like when you do news searches.. There are plenty of opportunities out there if you take the time to look.

On Facebook, don't rely on your "news feed". In case you hadn't noticed, you don't see everything your friends and "liked" pages post on your news feed. That was true even before all this "fake news" hysteria, and it's because depending on how many friends you have, you might get hundreds of posts in an hour and you'd never see everything. So Facebook prioritizes items in your news feed for you. There's a way you can go into settings and set priorities yourself, but the surest way to see everything posted by the individual or organization you like is to visit their pages. That will become even more true if and when the site starts hiding posts or labeling them as "fake" for political reasons.

Invent workarounds. Facebook is still perhaps the most effective tool to disseminate information to your circle of friends, who will share it to a wider and wider audience. But it's banning users and shutting down pages at what some believe is an alarming rate. So if articles from certain news sites are dubbed "fake" because of the source, post the information from a different source. In other words, if all InfoWars content is considered fake, click on any links in an InfoWars story that contain the pertinent information you're trying to share and post from the other site. Or, you can create your own blog, reference stories from InfoWars or wherever with proper links, and then post to Facebook as you. Their editors and algorithms won't be able to keep track of millions of individual posters to see if the information they're sharing is "fake".

Defund the corporate media. Remember, this attempt at censoring alternative voices via this "fake news" hysteria is completely of, by and for the thoroughly discredited corporate establishment media. At this point, this media is deliberately spreading misinformation to undermine the country and has absolutely no respect for your First Amendment right to voice opposition to it, so taking away its funding through cancelling subscriptions and discouraging advertising has, in my view, become a moral necessity. This isn't an attempt to kick establishment news outlets off the internet or have them shut down; it's about voting with our wallets to walk away from outlets who have no credibility left and can only survive by strong-arming their competitors.

Keep contact with your elected officials. Whether certain people like it or not, January is coming. And I have a hard time believing any attempt by web browsers or social media companies to block, blacklist or label as "fake" certain news sources wouldn't be a blatant violation of antitrust laws. If you see that sort of thing happening, keep a contact with your elected officials or complain to the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces antitrust laws.

Be thankful. If more of the would-be censors' friends had been elected to positions of authority in this country, we would be seeing opposition media get shut down in a post-election purge right now. I truly believe that.

Now I realize that I may be presenting solutions to problems that don't yet exist. But the people who work in the corporate media world aren't joking about their disdain for alternative news sites. Many of them have been pining for some form of licensing or official registry of news media since bloggers ended Dan Rather's career in disgrace more than a decade ago. And again, the only way they can survive now with any relevancy at all would be to eliminate alternative sources of information. So it's best that we be prepared for when censorship occurs and know how to respond.

As Butch Leghorn blogs at The Right Stuff:
The internet treats censorship as damage and routes around it. Now that we can network our brains together and communicate directly, the power of Finance is doomed because it can not longer maintain control of communications through legal action against corporations. Attempts to censor thought by media companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, Reddit, etc. are doomed to fail, as the information will route around this damage.
In this information age, you are the media. If you see something that's interesting and that you think others may not know, post it. And don't be discouraged by attempts at censorship.

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