Pour yourself a cup of coffee because this is going to be a thorough post!
“The Media.” “Fake News.” “Alternative Facts.” Media is a huge part of our everyday lives. It’s how we communicate and share ideas. It’s how we stay up to date on what’s going on in the world. From painting in caves, harking in the town square, writing manuscripts, printing press,books, magazines,radio waves, television, internet, social media, etc–media is all around us and it is a lens through which we look through but also a mirror we look into. I believe becoming extremely media literate is a crucial skill to learn as a prepper and a way for us to stay empowered.
This is one of my favorite Onion satires.
In 1983, 50 corporations controlled most of the American media, including magazines, books, music, news feeds, newspapers, movies, radio and television. By 1992 that number had dropped by half. By 2000, six corporations had ownership of most media, and today five dominate the industry: Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corporation, Bertelsmann of Germany and Viacom. With markets branching rapidly into international territories, these few companies are increasingly responsible for deciding what information is shared around the world.
The internet for awhile was a way to break free from corporation owned media, however, this has drastically changed. Little by little several online news sites have slipped into being owned by a small faction of media conglomerates:
In raw numbers, 80 percent of the top 20 online news sites are owned by the 100 largest media companies. Time Warner owns two of the most visited sites: CNN.com and AOL News, while Gannett, which is the twelfth largest media company, owns USAToday.com along with many local online newspapers.
According to Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and former Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, and writer of the book The New Media Monopoly, Ben Bagdikian, describes these media conglomerates as a “cartel” that holds enough power to drastically influence to change U.S politics and social values. Bagdikian believes this is a huge threat to democracy because it narrows choices and takes away a full spectrum of information and perspectives from voters.
(list of sources on this topic from the PBS article)
Who Owns The Media?
Do you like graphic novels? Manga, comic books, etc? Then I have a perfect book recommendation for you that dives right in to the history of Media and it’s various nuances. The Influencing Machine is a book I read in my WGS class called Media and Diverse Identities back in 2014. The Influencing Machine looks into the issue of why we distrust the news and how it’s always been this way. Gladstone rejects the notion that we are being controlled by the media. The main idea in this book is that the media is a mirror, rather than an “influencing machine” because we, the consumers of media, directly construct, filter, and respond to what we watch and read. Here is an excerpt and here is a book review.
Here is a link to a 3min video introducing this book!
In a book review from The Guardian:
“Gladstone’s central thesis is that we get the media we deserve: it doesn’t control us so much as pander to us (her title is a reference to the delusion suffered by some schizophrenics that an outside entity is putting certain dark and possibly shameful thoughts in their heads when, in fact, those thoughts originate in their own minds). So it’s up to us to acknowledge our own complicity. This isn’t a get-out-of-jail-free card for those who work in the media. Journalists, she believes, are too prone to running with the pack and sometimes craven and afraid (not for nothing did the US authorities decide to embed reporters during its adventures in the Middle East; terror and gratitude made the early headlines better than they should have been). Human beings are all prey to unconscious prejudices, and reporters no more or less than anyone else.”
Both of these books hold very valid points and make strong arguments. Does the media influence us or do we influence it? My take is that it’s both.
The 2016 Oxford Dictionary Word of The Year is
an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
What gives the most ratings? News that appeals to emotion. It doesn’t matter if something is factually true, if the ‘alternative facts’ feels true, then it must be true! At least to the consumer. So since ratings = money, and outlandish rage-media makes the ratings sky rocket, then the consumers are influencing the media to pander to them, which in turn regurgitates back onto consumers and those who aren’t thinking critically.
Critical thinking is one of the most important skills to have. The arts, humanities, sciences, and so forth are all modes of which to nurture critical thinking skills. It’s alarming that funding for these are being cut.
According to this very thorough piece in Wired Magazine, we don’t live in a “Post-Truth” era, but an era of internet enabling bullshit:
FAKE NEWS ISN’T just Macedonian teenagers or internet trolls. A longstanding network of bogus “think tanks” raise disinformation to a pseudoscience, and their studies’ pull quotes and flashy stats become the “evidence” driving viral, fact-free stories. Not to mention President Trump’s tweets.
These organizations have always existed: They’re old-school propagandists with new-school, tech-savvy reach. They’ve been ginning up so-called research for everyone from shady corporations to anti-LGBTQ groups to white supremacists for decades—they’re practiced, and their faux-academic veneer is thick and glossy. Which makes them harder to brush off than your garden-variety liar. “Fake think tanks use a mix of selected truths, half-truths, and downright fabricated stuff in order to manipulate people,” says Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City College of New York and author of Nonsense on Stilts: How To Tell Science from Bunk. “We don’t live in the age of post-truth. We live in the age of internet-enabled bullshit.”
Many of these “think tanks” are propagandists that spread disinformation. Many tend toward hate:
There’s the white supremacist National Policy Institute and Jared Taylor‘s New Century Foundation; the anti-LGBTQ work of the Family Research Council and American College of Pediatricians; and a whole slew of anti-immigrant groups. Three of the biggest—Federation for American Immigration Reform, the Center for Immigration Studies, and NumbersUSA—are intertwined, sharing a founder and funder in white nationalist John Tanton.
It’s not just right-wing, but there are plenty of misinformation spread through left-wing circles also.
In a lot of ways, it’s hard to tell which is fake and which is legit. This is because these think tanks have done a most excellent job at being a mimic. One way I used to discern from fake and legit news sources online was to look at the web address. I figured if it ended in a .org or .edu those are trusted sites. They used to be, but now these think tanks coopted those too, according to Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project. “Now some of the main hate sites are dot-orgs.”
How is this allowed to happen? Well, these sorts of things are not regulated and in fact are tax exempt.
“…think tanks don’t have a regulatory agency. Many—NPI, EPI, ACPeds, CIS, the New Century Foundation, FRC—are even tax exempt, registered as 501(c)3 non-profits like most legitimate think tanks. “So they’ve been able to convince someone at the IRS that what they do is educational,” says Donald Abelson, a political scientist at the University of Western Ontario who studies think tanks. “And the only time the IRS gets involved is if they violate 501(c)3 regulations by showing overt partisanship.”
Even mainstream think tanks only just following this rule, finding loopholes in the tax code for partisan breakaway organizations like the Center for American Progress Action Fund or Heritage Action for America. “The term ‘think tank’ has become so diluted over the years,” says Abelson. “It has created additional space on the American political landscape for these types of organizations to emerge and gain notoriety.””
The way these think tanks and media content creators have become so powerful is because algorithms have become weaponized:
“Think-tanky white supremacist organizations have generated enough material that a search topic like ‘black on white crime’ is dominated by their propaganda. That’s what happened to Dylann Roof, and how Trump ended up tweeting those false statistics.”
Their content plays well on social media. “Misinformation and fake news triggers hot cognition— it bypasses your focus on accuracy and goes directly to your feelings,” says Joseph Kahne, a professor of education at UC Riverside who studies engagement with media and politics online. “If the misinformation confirms their prior policy position, they are far more likely to say its accurate.”
Which these organizations know, and exploit. “There is one basic reason why CIS is influential,” Camarota says. “It’s that there’s nobody else criticizing immigration in a thoughtful way. It’s like we’re the best hockey player in Ecuador.” When you carve out a niche supplying confirmatory information you know people are looking for, it doesn’t matter if you’re right or not. And that extends beyond arguments happening on your uncle’s Facebook feed, because appealing stats and buzzwords are politically expedient, too.
How do these websites become mainstreamed so to speak?
Take for example the website Breitbart (I’m not going to link it). This was known as a fringe “alt-right” bullshit site. However, by aligning themselves with a political figure making their way up (Trump), Breitbart has become legitimized as one of the most read conservative websites online. Steve Bannon, who was the executive chair of this website, is now the Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to the President. Disturbingly, he now has a seat at the table on the National Security Council. A man, who has NO experience, in National Security. A man with known ties to white supremacy will now be calling the shots on National Security.
A white nationalist is now in charge of authorizing the secret, legal, targeted killings of American citizens (and others) without due process; Call your representatives to publicly oppose this!!
While the world was (understandably) focusing on the immigration executive order, a quieter – but equally disturbing – plot was developing.
Quick background: the National Security Council (NSC) is a federal council comprised of important high-level government officials including the President, Vice President, Secretary of State, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Director of National Intelligence. The NSC’s primary job is to use this broad expertise to advise the President on national security matters and assist in carrying out security directives.
Yesterday, the President removed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence from the NSC. He replaced them with Steve Bannon. Bannon has no government, intelligence, or high-level military experience; his experience is leading a propaganda outlet (Breitbart News) that peddles nationalist and white nationalist viewpoints.
This would be deeply concerning in and of itself. But one of the jobs of the NSC is to oversee a secret panel that authorizes the assassination of “enemies of the United States Government” – including American citizens. These targeted killings are fully authorized by law under the Congressional military authorization act following 9/11. There is no trial, no due process, and no public record of the decision or the assassination itself.
Just to recap the absurdity: the President of the United States has appointed a known propagandist, nationalist, and white supremacist to replace the highest military advisor in the country on a council that authorizes secret, legal, targeted killings of American citizens (and others) without due process.
What You Can Do:
– Call your Senators and Congressperson this week and demand that they publicly and legislatively oppose Trump’s appointment of Steven Bannon to the NSC.
– Spread the word about this news to your networks, since this is not getting a lot of coverage right now
Thanks to social media and the internet, anyone can distribute information. With instant upload a story can go viral in minutes without any fact checks. According to tech entrepreneur Oliver Luckett,
human emotion has become the editor-in-chief of today’s news, and that to steer us away from misinformation, fake news, and opinion masquerading as fact, it will require a concerted effort in social responsibility – something that we may not be capable of en masse.
We need to remember to keep our feet on the ground when an intense headline hits the web. These headlines are meant for clicks. How can we weed through all this bullshit? How can we ever know what we know to be true? All of this feels so overwhelming!
I’ve been doing a lot of reading on how to discern between what’s bullshit and what’s fact. A couple books I’ve been reading:
All three of these books are amazing in that they get us to examine ourselves and the world around us, why we believe what we believe, how it came to be, and how to critically think.
Here are some powerful key quotes from Demon Haunted World:
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” -Carl Sagan
“I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time — when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness…” -Carl Sagan
“The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.” -Carl Sagan
“If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority, then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.” -Carl Sagan
Here are a few key quotes from The Invisible Gorilla:
“Beware of memories accompanied by strong emotions and vivid details—they are just as likely to be wrong as mundane memories, but you’re far less likely to realize it.” – Christopher Chabris
“Incompetence causes overconfidence.”
― Christopher Chabris
Because of these uncertain times I’ve been interested in potentially starting a newsletter, podcast, vlog, and so on. But more so I’m leaning towards making some form of physical media that I can mail.
In that WGS class on Media and Diverse Identities we had an assignment on making our own Zine. It was one of my favorite assignments in college. I’m considering making more zines and keeping a mailing list. Privacy, net neutrality (which is a later post) are all being compromised.
We can be certain that we don’t know everything and in this day and age with instant media at our fingertips it is more important than ever to know thyself.