Friday, December 2, 2022

Let's Admit It: If You Succumb To "Fake News" You Might Be A Dummy


           "Of course it true dat Dems eat babies and sacrifice 'em to Satan!"

We are, to put it bluntly, immersed in an information cornucopia. There is simply no excuse for anyone of normal intelligence to get things wrong or be misled. Hence, the reports of "fake news" posted at Facebook taking gullible people in is beyond belief.  Anyone with a grain of sense knows that news outside authorized sources, like Facebook posts, has to be cross-checked. If a person then is still taken in, as in one FB post during the election campaign that "Pope Francis endorsed Donald Trump" then that person must be a dummy.

Reinforcing this was Froma Harrop's recent astounding findings - appearing in her Nov. 20 Denver Post column('I'm Leaving Facebook, Won't You Follow Me?'), that nearly all the Facebook fake news items were generated outside the U.S. and often by kids - playing the American public. She wrote:

"Kids in a town in Macedonia (that’s near Greece) created over 100 pro-Trump websites, spreading phony reports such as FBI plans to indict Hillary Clinton. The Make America Great page outsources the writing of fraudulent news to a couple in the Philippines."

Did they know something most pollsters don't? Yeppers, that too many Americans are dumb as rocks and don't check their facts, or dismiss them as incredible.

Harrop adds:

"Compounding the evil, Facebook’s design makes fake stories from fake sites such as the nonexistent Denver Guardian look like stories from the very real Denver Post. And no, blocking fake news sites from ad revenues is not going to stop politically motivated lying.Facebook further degrades the national conversation by creating echo chambers. Its algorithm directs the “news” people like to their like-minded friends."

With travesties like this no surprise the Oxford Dictionary's choice of post- truth as 2016's "word of the year". It defines post -truth as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping pubic opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief"

 Stanford's  Robert N.  Proctor recently asked (NY Times, 'Climate Change In Trump's Age Of Ignorance'):

"People like to think of us as living in an age of information, but a better descriptor might be “the age of ignorance.”

How did we get into this predicament? Why are we about to inaugurate the most anti-science administration in American history?"

I noted in an earlier post that deniers and believers in codswallop merit no tolerance, because in this age of Google and abundant knowledge it's inexcusable not to have the right material at your hands, if you make even a modest effort. But denialists especially aren't so invested, as Proctor pinpoints the key issue:

We now live in a world where ignorance of a very dangerous sort is being deliberately manufactured, to protect certain kinds of unfettered corporate enterprise. The global climate catastrophe gets short shrift, largely because powerful fossil fuel producers still have enormous political clout, following decades-long campaigns to sow doubt about whether anthropogenic emissions are really causing planetary warming. Trust in science suffers, but also trust in government. And that is not an accident. Climate deniers are not so much anti-science as anti-regulation and anti-government."

Auden Schendler writing in the Sunday Denver Post exposes one major consequence of Trump's minority election:

Trump’s election almost certainly dooms us to warming beyond the 2 degrees Celsius threshold identified by scientists, because many of the rules put into place by President Barack Obama — the Clean Power Plan, the Paris treaty, even mileage standards on cars — can be undermined by a new president. Beyond two degrees, feedback loops like forest die-off, ice-melt and methane-release take us to an ever warmer world"

This is something I've complained about before in terms of the pernicious mind virus inherent in agnotology, the deliberate cultivation of skepticism for economic, political ends.. But it goes beyond that in the willingness of too many of our fellow citizens to treat information and actual, verifiable knowledge like food choices in a cafeteria - where you just pick what you want and it's all relative to one's preferences.. No it is not.

The libertarian climate denier who disavows the data from ice core analysis and satellite sea ice mappings does himself no favors. Worse, if he invests his gray matter into beliefs that there is a "global warming alarmist conspiracy" and controversial scientific papers are deliberately excluded from publication..

As I noted before, most of these "skeptics" are really pseudo-skeptics: they adopt the venerable verbal mantle of skeptic but in fact do so in an unfounded, unaccountable way. They actually possess the necessary intellect to ferret out the truth and DO the research but are too damned lazy to do it. They don't want to read 15 or 20 papers that thoroughly debunk their idiotic beliefs, they'd rather just go to climate denier websites, imbibe the misinformation and repeat it. Especially with the conspiracy aspect.

One of the best exposes of their methods and dynamics has come from Yale Law school prof and science communication researcher Dan Kahan.  He has concluded that their information processing is almost entirely determined by their deep-seated political values and cultural identities. Thus, a white libertarian member of  Intertel, for example, will see global warming science as just one more vehicle of  subversive force backed  by the "untermenschen"  to be used against his precious economic values and Eurocentric ideals. All of this is then attributed to "global warming alarmism", as an expeditious cover for his own abysmal laziness, ignorance and cynicism. At this point, his thinking is already so corrupted and contaminated it's almost impossible to break through on any rational or critical thinking level.

At the other end of the post-truth spectrum are those who can't even be bothered to invoke rationalizations, they simply believe whatever nonsense is expelled from a moron's mouth. Especially a moron full of himself with pretensions to national leadership like Donald Trump. Hence, Atlantic columnist David Frum's reference to Trump's dishonesty as "qualitatively different than anything before seen in a major party nominee".

Such as saying Mexicans coming to the States were "rapists", Ted Cruz' dad was involved in the Kennedy assassination and climate change was a "hoax invented by the Chinese."  (See my next post, however, as Trump appears to have changed his position on this).

But what has gotten the attention of those like Frum, David Brooks, and others is that none of his idiotic spoutings mattered to those who supported him. It was as if truth was dead, all facts passe. If the Trumpster said it, especially with gusto, it has to be true. As my German sister-in-law put it, the only example she ever recalled that came close was Adolf Hitler.. He could repeat a lie often and via about ten different versions, getting the masses to believe each merely by the passion injected.

But it goes beyond passion, also involving the medium used, and in Trump's case, Twitter. Or what I refer to as a "mini medium" allowing for only 140 characters and hence an absolute minimum of complex thought. One is basically reduced to the equivalent of a series of language cartoons.  This also harkens back to the medium used  constituting the basis of the message, as Marshall McLuhan first pointed out in 
Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

If then Twitter is essentially a cartoon language medium it will be most deftly exploited by a cartoon persona, which is precisely what Trump is when you dissect him: Bigger than life, believes he can actually be a President and billionaire businessman simultaneously (he can't) and capable of spouting any nonsense that erupts within his synapses realizing a lot of receptive brains will simply imbibe it in unthinking fashion. Those brains themselves the equivalent of cartoons if they receive his tweeting expulsions  and absorb them uncritically. So, little wonder there is no parsing of the messages or analytical processing. Tweets do not lend themselves to any critical processing.  Hence, there is much greater probability of taking them literally.

A big question that arises now is whether Trump will continue his tweeting as President. There is a good case to be made that this would be akin to hiring a 12 year old as his speech writer. Bottom line is we expect more gravitas in our Presidents and the office itself - if one is going to insist on ""respect" - demands a certain level of decorum. This simply can't be achieved by tweets, unless one is willing to be viewed as an unreconstructed adolescent. So, like it or not, Trump- if he wishes to be taken seriously by those beyond his cartoon tweet and re-tweet community - will have to put on his big boy pants and put the Twitter away. Better yet, give his phone to Melania for safe keeping.

That will be a good thing because it will open him up to the potential for really, finally addressing his millions of daffy supporters in a serious way. Also, using media less likely to be hijacked by 14 year olds in Macedonia to create fake news posts on Facebook.

At least one can hope!

See also:

"Fake news thrives because there is a lazy, incurious, self-satisfied public that wants it to thrive; because large swaths of that public don’t want news in any traditional sense,. So much as they want vindication of their preconceptions and prejudices; because in this post-modernist age, every alleged fact is supposed to be a politico-economic construct, and nothing can possibly be true; and because even rationality now is passé. Above all else, fake news is a lazy person’s news. It provides passive entertainment, demanding nothing of us. And that is a major reason we now have a fake news president."

This post originally appeared in November, 2o16

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