Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Bullshit News [updated]


You may have heard that Google is refusing advertising on what it calls “fake news sites.”

The shifts comes as Google, Facebook and Twitter Inc face a backlash over the role they played in the U.S. presidential election by allowing the spread of false and often malicious information that might have swayed voters toward Republican candidate Donald Trump.

Great news. Though just as many voters would have been swayed towards his opponent by broadcasts from the likes of the Clinton News Network (CNN) and the New York Times, which has all-but admitted it publishes advocacy instead of news and, according to one former senior staffer, makes up its news-slant a whole year in advance.

Given the behaviour of the mainstream media in this election season, one has to question whether many of these folks can be seriously considered journalists any longer. Gone was even the pretence of unbiased, fair and accurate reporting. MSNBC, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC, the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, the Associated Press and others all pushed a positive slant in their coverage of Hillary Clinton.  There was scant coverage of her email problems, Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, and her seemingly endless prevarication.
    As Wikileaks revealed in the slow rollout of John Podesta emails, there was even collusion with the Clinton campaign and several media outlets such as Politico and CNN. These were ethical breeches of the first degree. The people involved should be barred from the business, but none were fired or even disciplined for their transgressions.

Add this together with both candidates’ multiple lies this election season, oft-backed up by reporters willing to lie for them (Hannity here being a prime example, but hardly alone in that) lies that would have outstripped the ability of any honest fact-checker to sort out (rather than issuing Pinocchios, it would have been far easier simply to signal the few times when candidates told the truth), and you have all the ingredients for everyone being grievously misinformed by both mainstream media (who long ago straying from the ethic of “Just the facts, ma’am”) and minor mavens posting anonymously from Macedonia.

So what can one do in this era of post-truth politics? Decent intellectual hygiene demand that one handle all news from whatever source with tongs. That we remember those sources who who at least state their bias and simply select their facts, rather than manufacture them – and read widely among these sources to find all the facts, if you can (like news of the buses that have apparently transported many of this week’s spontaneous anti-Trump protestors). That we remember those for whom facts are too often too slippery; and avoid altogether those whose modus operandi is putting out outright sludge. That we check sites like Snopes if something does appear too good to be true (but remember all such sites have their own political bias).

I doubt I’ll agree with everyone on Google’s ban list, but this at least appears a good start – for some time here I’ve been avoiding posting their memes myself. I suggest you do too:


Add to that MSM sources like RT and CNN, and you have a very good start (and a guide to what will not be linked here, even in your comments.

PS: Just to respond to an obvious question: No, this is not censorship – and anyone who claims it is knows nothing about what censorship is:

“Censorship” is a term pertaining only to governmental action. No private action is censorship. No private individual or agency can silence a man or suppress a publication; only the government can do so. The freedom of speech of private individuals includes the right not to agree, not to listen and not to finance one’s own antagonists.

Nor to sanction the peddling of falsehood as fact.

UPDATE: Useful thoughts on the proposal from a Facebook friend:

Big internet companies trying to do your fact-checking for you creeps me out but I think there are ways that it could be done without getting Orwellian.
    In terms of "fake news" (a phrase I hate almost as much as "crony capitalism"), here's what I recommend the big internet companies such as Facebook do:
    If an algorithm determines that a post is fake, put some kind of word or icon next to the link to indicate that. Clicking that icon then provides you with information for *why* the algorithm determined it was likely fake (such as links to or excerpts from snopes, FactCheck, Wikipedia etc). Given that [IBM’s] Watson can answer Jeopardy questions and provide the reasons why it gave the answer it does, I assume this kind of thing must be possible.
    Facebook users can then determine for themselves whether they agree with the assessment of the algorithm. If they decide that the algorithm usually gets it right, then that build trust. If they decide they don't agree with it, then they are no worse off than they were before.
    This feature could even be opt-in. Users could be encouraged to "try our new fact-checking algorithm."
    Perhaps you could even have your own custom weighting of which sources you consider most reliable. So, users could say "I trust 0.9 but snopes only 0.4" or something. That would probably require a lot more computation because then everyone's getting custom results, but might not be so bad if most people use the default settings.
    I suppose this doesn't really solve the "trending topics" problem, but I think it would be a good step in the right direction.


  1. A technique I've found some success with is to find a source's bias, and if it says something AGAINST that bias, accept that it's likely true. For example: USA Today is a left-wing rag given out for free to hotels in the USA. I feel pretty confident accepting their election results, because they have every reason to lie--showing the overwhelming majority of the country voting Republican during the Obama administration undercuts their own bias. In contrast, when they report on Medicaid drug price spikes being driven by corporate greed, this plays into their bias and therefore is less likely to be true.

    This does not take the place of more rigorous fact-checking, but it gives a fairly good back-of-the-envelope type method for evaluating the articles.

    To be honest, it's a hold-over from reading scientific articles. In that context, even authors will frequently point out where results contradicted their biases. In "news" media it's a lot more hit-and-miss in terms of effectiveness.

  2. Anyone could read that Trump was Hitler right here on NotPC. Trump is Hitler was put out by the DNC. So many were played, even including libertarians, they came to believe what was in effect spoon fed to them by the Hillary campaign but through hundreds of conduits.

    Even the move against fake news is fake. A pure reaction to the Trump victory. Post truth again.

  3. Meh it is hardly new. Remember Dan Rather and the "fake but accurate" memo about Bush? A movie was just made still claiming it was all real for God's sake! The internet just makes the lying easier but usually more obvious.

  4. "It's only censorship if the government does it"

    Good rationalisation Peter. Very funny. Although the "Ayn Rand Lexicon" does not overrule the dictionary.

    1. It's not a rationalisation, Barry, the reason is in the paragraph above: Because the free speech for Google, Facebook et all does not require that they finance or host those they despise.

      Nor I.

    2. Perhaps every dictionary doesn't make the clear distinction between private choice and government force that Ayn Rand does, in which case the dictionary's authors are probably just as muddled as you are, and attempting to coflate two very different things.

      Words also have different meaning depending on the context. I for instance can say that I am not 'free' to attend someone's gathering because I'm busy or can't afford the cost, or I could say I'm not 'free' because the government won't allow it. Just as with 'censorhip', a word such as 'free' has different distinguishing features depending on the context. When someone tries to package the two together and say they're the same, there's usually a dishonest motive in play.

    3. Dictionaries follow a Descriptivist philosophy in terms of language: they compile how words are used, not necessarily what they were originally intended to mean. Thus, dictionaries can be--and often are--wrong, or at least the definitions used in one setting may not appear in a dictionary.

      Prescriptivists hold dictionaries up to be holy books, but they're not. They're made by men and women, FOR men and women, each with its own agenda (and it's never pure factual representation of the accepted definitions of words). Dictionaries are not trump cards.

      But let's take you at your word, Barry. What would it mean to say that Google/Facebook were censoring you? The obvious answer is "I could force them to provide X" (if it wasn't, you wouldn't be complaining). In other words, it's all about control without responsibility--dictating what others do without bearing any of the responsibility for the consequences of those choices.

    4. Dictionaries usually do include the origin of words Dinwar, as well as alternate meanings depending on context. Not perfect of course, but a hell of a lot better than the "Ayn Rand Lexicon". The dictionary definition of censorship:

      "Censorship is the suppression of free speech, public communication or other information which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by governments, media outlets, authorities or other groups or institutions."

      So if Peter decides a link is "objectionable" and he deletes it, that's censorship. You can't just arbitrarily decide that it isn't.

      There's also a difference between PC hosting articles he doesn't like (which would fit the analogy with Google & Facebook), and allowing free speech in the comments.

  5. This conundrum rather reminds me of the Web of Trust community, which supposedly deals with malware warnings. It has in actual practice become infested with ratings enforcing political correctness by disappearing content not in compliance - rather like copyright enforcement gone mad.

  6. Faggwell has shown over and over that HE is an ENEMY OF FREEDOM and is a GLOBALIST POS

    His day in the electric chair will come after he is arrested for Treason


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