The DNC recently published and promoted “Recommendations for Combating Online Disinformation” and I decided to give it the Reliability Ranking treatment.
I understand this is a bit like reliability “Inception”, but what the hell! Right Variety is new and I can take these chances.
Again, this section of Right Variety is more experiment than anything else. Give my first article a look to get familiar with some general guidelines.
Breaking down the DNC recommendations
Countries that are resilient to disinformation and foreign influence rely on whole-of-society approaches focused on digital literacy and awareness of disinformation tactics.
Right off the bat these recommendations are headed by a generalized statement. (Which countries?) And also a hidden standard. Who judges what “resilience to disinformation” means? And what are the standards of measuring that?
1. Actively seek out information online from multiple authoritative sources.
This sounds reasonable but is actually rather sophist.
First, who decides who is “authoritative”? It’s a hidden standard.
One of the primary faults of intelligence gathering organizations is the reliance on “authoritative” or “reliable” sources.
History is strewn with examples of turncoats and double agents.
George W. Bush famously sent us into Iraq based on false information of WMDs (weapons of mass destruction).
Eighteen years of war in Afghanistan and the premises and reporting of “authoritative sources” have been called into serious question recently by documents obtained by the Washington Post.
The second primary downfall of information gathering and analysis is “multiple reports”.
Multiple people can report the same lie. The number of people (authorities and otherwise) all saying the same thing doesn’t make the thing true.
In today’s news cycle, one source reports a piece of news and then other outlets re-report it, using the first outlet as the source.
Rapidly, numerous “authoritative sources” can all be repeating the same lie.
The data are the data. The information is the information. The information is not the source. Whether a source is “authoritative” does not lend truth to a lie or make a thing true. A “non-authoritative” source does not make something that is true not true.
I do agree that we should not be getting our news and reports from social media “hot takes”, and we should seek out our own sources on-line, but I am immediately incredulous that the browser extension the DNC wants me to download is going to help provide me with less disinformation.
Yes, authority and reliability are established by reporting true information, being mostly right and correcting when wrong. But never does that mean an authority is right just because they are an authority.
Being labeled an authority means you have a right to esteem from your peers, and you have a responsibility to be truthful. But it doesn’t confer instant believability and doesn’t lend truth to lies. Anyone suggesting otherwise is out to sell a bill of goods.
2. Ask yourself who the author of online content is, why they posted the information, and what they are hoping you will do with it.
The author of the content, their motives and intentions are – none of them – relevant in determining fact from fiction.
If PoserBoi6725 says “George Bush lied about WMDs in Iraq”, his anonymity as an author and his political biases, and how he hopes that information will affect you, doesn’t change the FACT that George Bush lied about WMDs in Iraq.
Questioning the motive and intent of reporting outlets, and discounting their information thereby, creates and sustains the “echo chamber”.
Again: a datum is true or false regardless of why it’s being spoken and regardless of the hopes of the speaker in speaking it.
These things should be scrutinized before they are shared, but the scrutiny should be based on establishing fact, not questioning motive.
3. Avoid being manipulated by divisive or dishonest content.
I agree! And points 1 and 2 above are divisive and dishonest. So don’t be manipulated by this content!
I just love the conceit of not telling your reader how to gauge what is dishonest and what is divisive, and then telling them not to be manipulated.
If anything, these recommendations so far are “don’t listen to anyone we haven’t selected as authorities for you, and question the motives of everyone else”.
How dishonest is THAT?
4. If you see something untrue on social media, try to inject truth into the debate…
So now they are just trying to get people to share from a list of pre-selected sites – all of which I assume are the “authoritative sources”.
Ok. Whatever on that. Let’s move on.
5. Educate yourself
This is then followed by a series of articles and videos they’ve pre-selected to educate you on “the tactics of on-line manipulators”.
If these recommendations had done what they were supposed to do (teach someone how to guard against falsehood) they wouldn’t then need to link to these.
But, okay! I agree! We should educate ourselves.
Recommendations that work
The first thing to educate yourself on is how to ACTUALLY guard against disinformation. Here are my recommendations that are non-partisan and don’t require you to read and watch hours of material I have selected for you to study.
These recommendations also don’t require you to have a snide, cynical attitude toward the world around you based on the scare-belief that “people” are trying to “manipulate” you.
You can practice these with great aplomb!
1. All relevant details should be present, linked to, or we should be shown where to find them:
When a fact is reported look out for these factors: time (when it happened), place (where it happened), context (the circumstances surrounding the event) and what happened (the event itself).
Context is very important and by that I mean “all relevant context”.
It was once reported that Obama told business owners “you didn’t build that”. He was referring to civil infrastructure like roads and bridges, but that didn’t stop people from losing their minds and linking to the sound bite. The relevant context was omitted.
Andrew Breitbart was famously decried in the media for “selectively editing” a speech by a government official. But his own article and his own edit of the speech were themselves “selectively edited” by the news media to create the basis to denounce him. It was like disinformation inception!
So just some context isn’t enough. All RELEVANT context is key.
If a news story seems disjointed and skips around on the timeline and doesn’t read like, well, a story, then it’s probably got a bent to it.
In today’s digital age there is usually a full video or transcript or call or Twitter thread. If you have any doubts on the reporting you should seek those out.
Be wary of videos or speeches that start in the middle and end mid-paragraph. Selective edits are not hard to spot.
A report, if truthful, should not shy away from providing the full and complete context by linking to it or otherwise directing readers and viewers to where they can find it.
You don’t have to go study the full context if you don’t want to, but it does speak to the integrity of the reporting if it is made available.
2. Irrelevant details, facts or opinion should not be included
This is sometimes hard to spot but usually comes in with unnecessary use of adjectives and adverbs.
It also happens when positioning sources. They’ll say, “Joe Jones, a respected law professor at Ivory Cuck University” or they’ll say, “controversial figure, Bobby Billiards” or “known alt-right fac-head and white supremacist Lafandu Shinique” or “suspected money launderer” … they just slip in these irrelevancies sometimes to discredit, or booster-credit, a source.
Often times “respected” means recommended by 2 or 3 people, or even “the only one available for comment and we appreciate their time”. “Suspected White supremacist” can mean “re-tweeted the wrong person once”. These seemingly innocuous descriptors can actually be pretty charged.
You’ll even see it when describing events. Something like, “…not to be out-done, Senator Bloke issued a searing statement that…” which serves to make the Senator’s response seem vengeful or jealous in some way.
Another favorite one of some journalists is to describe someone by a past, now irrelevant, event or statement. “Sam Blobfold (who once said camels had three toes)….”
Colorful descriptors and adverbial phrases have their place in literature and fiction but when you start seeing a lot of it in the news you should beware.
3. Opinions are opinions
You would think this doesn’t need to be pointed out but it does.
Facts are not opinion. News reports that headline opinions as if they are facts are out-right bias.
“So and so is a doofus – source says” shouldn’t even be read.
But that never happens? What about all those articles last year speculating Trump’s mental well-being and ability to hold office, and calling for the 25th Amendment to remove him from office? Agreeing with those opinions doesn’t make them any less opinion.
“So and so did a thing – sources think” is likewise opinion-reporting.
We have a great example right now with the Speaker of the House withholding articles of impeachment from the Senate for trial.
News media is “reporting” on this with “expert takes” on whether or not the impeachment is legitimate if it hasn’t gone to the Senate.
But how can there be an “expert take” on something that’s never happened before? This is unprecedented. All reporting on it, and what it means, is opinion-based reporting.
Facts can also be opinion. Like the FACT that David Duke had a nice OPINION about Trump. It is only offered because it’s someone’s misguided OPINION that we give a shit.
Advice is also opinion. Like this article. And the one that sparked it.
It’s okay to report on and give opinions but they should be clearly labeled as such and not obfuscated or passed on as fact.
4. Contrary facts
When a headline reads “A THING HAPPENED!” and the text goes on to say, “…this has led many to speculate a thing happened…”
Memes are meant to get a point across rapidly. It’s digital-age phrase-mongering. Don’t look at a meme and think “REALLY?! OMG!”
Sometimes a meme or infographic gives a source (news, stats, reports). Only then can they be looked at further.
Perhaps the greatest lie being perpetrated right now is this idea that anyone gives memes credence.
No one is voting because they saw a meme.
Memes are funny.
Just laugh and get over it.