April 24, 2024

confronting the post-truth machine

Author: Harold Jarche
Go to Source

post-truth (adjective) Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.Oxford Dictionaries

On Twitter, Tim Dickinson described four different types of distributed ‘fake news’.

‘Fake news’ is lazy language. Be specific. Do you mean:
A) Propaganda
B) Disinformation
C) Conspiracy theory
D) Clickbait


The Oxford Dictionaries define Propaganda as — “Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.” The RAND Corporation, a US think-tank with strong ties to the military industrial complex, recently looked at the influence of the Russian Propaganda Model and found that retractions and refutations of propaganda have limited impact and that the best way to deal with it is through forewarning.

“Forewarning is perhaps more effective than retractions or refutation of propaganda that has already been received. The research suggests two possible avenues:

Propagandists gain advantage by offering the first impression, which is hard to overcome. If, however, potential audiences have already been primed with correct information, the disinformation finds itself in the same role as a retraction or refutation: disadvantaged relative to what is already known.

When people resist persuasion or influence, that act reinforces their preexisting beliefs. It may be more productive to highlight the ways in which Russian propagandists attempt to manipulate audiences, rather than fighting the specific manipulations.”

Framing, or getting out the message first, has significant advantages. It is more powerful than attacking a previous frame (message). “1) Repetition strengthens the synapses in neural circuits that people use in thinking 2) Whoever frames first has an advantage 3) Negating a frame activates and strengthens it.” @GeorgeLakoff

Disinformation & Conspiracy Theories

Disinformation and conspiracy theories can easily spread and can be used to keep citizens ignorant. The researcher danah boyd defines agnotology as — “the strategic and purposeful production of ignorance”.

You will not achieve an informed public simply by making sure that high quality content is publicly available and presuming that credibility is enough while you wait for people to come find it. You have to understand the networked nature of the information war we’re in, actively be there when people are looking, and blanket the information ecosystem with the information people need to make informed decisions.”—danah boyd

Using McLuhan’s laws of media we can see that the digital information ecosystem extends emotion through manufactured media spectacles, as the Christchurch murderer did. Traditional journalism with its attempts at presenting both sides of a story is obsolesced by the very nature of its assumption of a neutral point of view. Return to nature movements, such as anti-vaxxers, retrieve the pastoral impulse for an imaginary kinder and gentler society. We are left in a state of constant doubt as conspiratorial content becomes easier to access on platforms like YouTube than access to solid scientific information, much of which is behind a pay-wall and inaccessible to the general public.

Persuading people through disinformation or conspiracy theories is become relatively easy by using consumer social media platforms, like Facebook. Such was the case of Cambridge Analytica and the Brexit campaign.

“You don’t need to change everyone’s mind, argues Brittany Kaiser, former director of business development at Cambridge Analytica. You just need to change the minds of the ‘persuadables.’ And the way you identify them is through understanding not just what they buy or say about themselves, but how they think. Through harvesting personal data, Cambridge Analytica could, and did, identify and persuade them.”

The challenge for every citizen is not to be a ‘persuadable’. Can you be persuaded by social media?


Social media can influence how and what people read, even when viewing only links and summaries in a news feed. It is reported that 67% of Americans get their news from social media, particularly Facebook. And it seems that most people do not even read what they pass on.

“The average Facebook user only clicks on about seven percent of the political news stories in their feed, which means that the vast majority of the time, people are getting tiny little doses of information, with a big old dose of misguided confidence.” —ScienceAlert

The above article cites research that shows how viewing previews without going to the original article gives an inflated self-perception of knowledge on the subject, “audiences who only read article previews are overly confident in their knowledge, especially individuals who are motivated to experience strong emotions and, thus, tend to form strong opinions.”

If there is but one practice that we all can develop to deflect fake news and clickbait, it is to always read the full article before sharing it or making any comments.

Social Media

There are dark sides to all social media. Understanding these can help citizens make better decisions, especially during elections fueled by disinformation and conspiracy theories.

Image: Ian McCarthy

Social media extend emotion, obsolesce the linearity and logic of print, retrieve oral speech, and when pushed to their limit, reverse into constant outrage.

What can we do?

All we have is our collective humanity to make sense of the post-truth media surround. The industrial-market era allowed many of us to focus on our individuality. Now we have to build our collective strength. My attempt to help with this shift is personal knowledge mastery and the Seek > Sense > Share framework. I have called it our part of the social learning contract. Our collective knowledge has to be resilient enough to face the post-truth media tidal wave. None of us can do it alone. We have to find communities of practice to continuously test our understanding. We also have to engage with diverse social networks that include those who differ from us.

Wallowing in the post-truth media surround is not an option for an engaged citizenry. Ignoring our interconnected reality is a luxury we cannot afford. Whether it be PKMastery, crap detection, working out loud, new literacies, or something else does not matter. We all need to get out of our filter bubbles and engage our networked world.

We cannot let the algorithmic overlords control the conversation. Education on the nature of disinformation is essential. This is what new media literacy should focus on, not just understanding the latest tools and platforms.

Critical thinking requires us to constantly question assumptions, especially our own. To develop these skills, questioning must be encouraged. This runs counter to most schooling and training practices. When do students or employees get to question underlying assumptions of their institutions? If they cannot do this, how can we expect them to challenge various and pervasive types of ‘fake news’? The elites — government and market — cannot have it both ways. They cannot have an educated citizenry as well as a compliant workforce.

Real freedom will begin with people taking control of their own education. It will not be easy and will require the sharing of institutional and market power. This will not happen without a struggle. We are seeing this beginning to manifest in distributed movements like Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future. Let’s use our words.

“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.” —Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018)

Note: This is based on several older posts published here.

Read more