There is much ado about fake news and the lying propaganda wrapped in a big story that pollutes (social) media daily. How damaging is it? And why does “real news” mislead even more often?
Real news misleads more often than fake news
There is much ado about fake news and the mendacious propaganda wrapped in a big story that floods (social) media daily. But what is fake news really? Are they by definition lies packaged as news or story? Or should we also ask what is the relationship between reality, interpretation and the importance of truth in a larger context? In the common good? The purpose?
Fake news, misleading news or irrelevant stories are often a revenue model and a symptom of a major human deficit. Namely, our inability to properly grasp the connection between “reality” and our own interpretation of that reality. After all, people categorize, name and judge the world and other people fully automatically and thus make it ‘experiential and substantial’.
But is it not the case that experiencing the world actually comes down to giving it real meaning? In populist gossip rags like Privé, Story and Quote we often find fabricated stories and interpretations that on the one hand exist entirely by the grace of the journalist’s and reader’s imagination. But at the same time, precisely because of that, they are real. Fellow philosopher Yuval Harari calls these interpretations ‘myths’ or ‘fictions’ on his website [Power and Imagination], in the ambiguous sense of the word; they are “not real,” but conceived by man, and also “real” – they exist as constructions.
Means of deconstructing and distorting reality
That brings us back to the question of what is fake news and when does real news mislead more than fake news? Well, fake news or irrelevant news are ways to undermine business or damage good reputations of companies or people.
…Facts are often part of what we want to believe. So facts alone are not enough to enforce a portion of reality.
It is a means of disempowering shared reality and distorting it. Sometimes also to polarize without purpose. It is tempting to fight fake news or irrelevant news with facts, but that rarely works out well or even backfires. According to Harari, this is because facts are part of what we want to believe. So facts alone are not enough to enforce a portion of reality. But just as fictions enable us to work together, they can also be used to blacken each other, to ‘dehumanize’ even. In this sense, a great deal of ‘real news’ is also more misleading than fake news: after all, there is little that breeds so much distrust of the other. Therefore, when reading news or stories, we should always ask ourselves, “is this true and does it reinforce suspicion of my fellow man?” If the answer is yes, be wary. Cultivate trust in each other, in then ultimately the only remedy.
Serious social and cultural problem
The scale and speed with which this form of misinformation or irrelevant news spreads can rightly be qualified as a serious, social and cultural problem. Sometimes there is even talk of an ‘infodemic’; a flow of information of almost epidemic proportions, which hinders finding relevant information. This kind of news often has only one goal: to collect followers and sell magazines with unsubstantiated or irrelevant news. Ulco Schuurmans writes in the Volkskracht 2 March 2020 that the reporting on corona is more damaging than the virus itself. According to Schuurmans, the (social) media coverage of covid-19 is so overwrought that it poses a threat to society. Another example is the alleged high energy consumption of electric cars and that a TESLA X is much worse for the environment than a BMW X5 on diesel. Real nonsense! Fake news on social media is six times more successful than real news!
Publications on social media about the covid-19 virus is so overwrought that it poses a threat to society.
This misinformation is often spread further by groups of people, even though they often do not believe the news or only partially. They do so for various reasons: it is sensational or it is deeper in the journalist’s soul, namely it confirms their own interests, frustrations or latent embarrassments and fears. Or it could have been true. Problematic can also be misleading reports or stories when they cast suspicion on one agency or person, without serving a general interest. Or when they are contrary to common decency and, for example, no adversarial process was applied. Then there are thousands of good reasons to ring the alarm bells and not only take the broadcaster with a grain of salt, but also to investigate him or her for real motives and secondary interests. A sickening example of Aramco, the world’s largest oil company; “Real Sustainability doesn’t wait until tomorrow’.
Timeless questions to stay on the ‘right track’
Back to the thesis that real news, information we enjoy consuming, is at least as big a problem as fake news. As a philosopher, I regularly ask myself timeless questions such as, “What is truth and when is it relevant to share? What is love? When is something just? Why do people have such a hard time finding the core of our humanity: our mercy? Why do we have such a hard time forgiving?
“Philosophers come on foot, … journalists go on horseback”
Many journalists, especially from irrelevant magazines like Panorama, De Nieuwe Revu and Quote, only ask questions that are extremely temporary. What seems like a big story today is long forgotten tomorrow. The circulation and consumption of news and stories has increased dramatically with the Internet. The news of NU.nl a few hours later is already caught up, outdated or still just as irrelevant. Philosophy comes on foot, news goes on horseback.
This was the news… not at all
At its core, news or a true story is that which makes you want to shout it from the rooftops. Something that makes you run to your opposite neighbors to share it. Something they absolutely need to know and didn’t know yet. Something that tells you what is happening in the world and is important to your life. At least, it should be. But the reality is different. According to Rob Wijnberg, founder of the Correspondent, news or a great story is a representation of sensational, exceptional, recent and negative events or incidents. And in these five words, according to Wijnberg, lies the major problem of news and irrelevant stories.
Five fundamental deficiencies
Sensational news is that which stands out enough so that it gets noticed. It is all about explosive visibility. This is why, according to Joris Luyendijk, attacks in Hamburg are news, but the Turkish army’s occupation of northern Syria is not. The one is much more visible than the other. Just think of the tens of thousands of refugees on Lesbos. How visible are they compared to an attack on a streetcar in Utrecht? Or compare the visibility of several tens of thousands of Corona deaths in Europe in the first quarter, with another reality; namely that every 3 seconds a child under the age of five dies of starvation. Almost 30,000 per day! Which is more visible and therefore news? And what is ultimately most relevant. One keeps us in our homes, while the other should drag us out of our homes to do something about it. Why don’t we bring the parentless children from Lesbos to the Netherlands and offer them a home in the shrinking regions where schools have a chronic shortage of students? Why is it hardly news that Rutte and his cabinet absolutely won’t and refuse to do it, while several major cities in the Netherlands can and will do it tomorrow for humanitarian reasons. Are the upcoming elections and the battle with Baudet more important to our neoliberal cabinet than our humanity. Or is it perhaps because our prime minister has no children of his own? I deliberately formulate it like this to make it clear how it works. How deception and framing work and distort our reality and opinions.
News is almost always also highly exceptional. It is about something that is unusual. The fact that we spend hours every day in traffic jams is normal, but when a milk truck runs off the road and ends up in a ditch, that is news. This is very misleading, because as a result we do not see really important things or we see them too late. The fact that banks piled risk on risk on a daily basis for decades only became news in 2008 when J.P. Morgan collapsed. Too late, in other words. That we will have hundreds of millions of climate refugees in a few decades, we don’t see coming now. Because we write about weather and climate change instead of climate crisis and war and its impact on our prosperity, well-being and lives.
If it bleeds, it leads
If it bleeds, it gets on the front page – is a common saying in the journalism world. Or to put it another way: good news is not news. Negative news is. So if you follow the news closely and regularly, you are quick to think that the world is becoming increasingly unsafe and people can be trusted less and less – even though the opposite is true. News and big stories constantly give the feeling that companies, governments and people cannot be trusted: they defraud, are corrupt, rob each other, evade taxes. The reality is that the vast majority of people do and want to do good, as Rutger Bregman so eloquently described in his book “De meeste mensen deugen’.
In addition, many journalists of irrelevant media and news are obsessed with current events. For almost all news, the rule is: it must have taken place today or at most yesterday. Something that happened a week, a month or a year ago is usually no longer news.
But the most recent news is not necessarily the most substantial or truthful. Almost everything has a history, which determines why something happens. Because news usually focuses its gaze on today, it blinds people to the longer term, both from the past and into the future. This leaves the biggest changes in society and society out of the picture: like the economization of our lives without recognizing that people and the planet have been made subservient to the economy instead of the other way around. We hear about the weather every day, sometimes something about climate change, but it is never about hundreds of millions of climate refugees we may welcome later this century as a result of the global climate crisis. The extinction of the Chinese Flag dolphin was world news a few years ago, but when will we read something on the front pages about the immense loss of biodiversity and the impact on our food chain in the near future? Or about the ethics and dangers of artificial intelligence and democratization of IQ, if this technology does not become accessible to all. This will not only be to the detriment of our pursuit of a more inclusive economy and society – it may also lead to an even greater separation of people than millions of years ago, when we counted 15 human species and homo sapiens ’emerged victorious’ and ultimately survived as the only one.
The news is rarely about the veracity of our lives, but almost always about irrelevant side issues. And that’s because news is primarily about events. News must have a “hook. That’s why the news always ends with the weather, but never with climate change, let alone the upcoming climate war. Because nobody seems interested in the message: ‘Today the average temperature on earth increased again by a tenth of a degree Celsius and with it 10% of the violence in the world.’ While they are.
If you follow the news, you don’t know what’s happening
All well and good, news does not redeem its eminent promise – that it shows you what is substantially and truly happening in the world. If you follow the news daily, you know mostly what doesn’t happen. So unlike fake news and untruthful stories, which are simply untrue or irrelevant, real news misleads us in a much more fundamental way. It misrepresents probability, history, progress, development and relevance. As a result, we think that attacks are more dangerous than sugar. Or that more people die from Coronavirus COVID-10 than from obesity and stress. Or that the financial crisis began in 2008. And that climate change is happening very slowly and there is little we can do about it. All things and assumptions that are untrue. One could almost conclude that those who do not read the newspaper and do not watch OP1 are uninformed and those who do are misinformed.
What sugar is to the body, is news is to the mind
The effect of fragmented news consumption is that it makes people afraid of other people. It makes us skeptical about our future and cynical about our own influence on it. Most news validates our most persistent prejudices and greatest fears. It makes people pessimistic and distrustful. News that meets the five shortcomings described by Rob Wijnberg is not good for us – as individuals and as a society. “What sugar is to the body, news is to the mind,” Rolf Dobelli once wrote.
Medicine and cure against the delusion of the day
On my BLOG I write articles, columns and opinions as medicine and cure against the delusion of the day. A kind of antidote to the worst side effects of the news, journalists and talk show host who are alienated from the intention and are guided by goals – circulation and ratings. Without regard to whether their contributions are true or genuine. As long as it is sensational, exceptional, negative, current and a visible event.
Stimulated and inspired by media such as the De Correspondent, De Groene Amsterdammer and Vrij Nederland, I write and speak about what happens every day instead of what happened today. This makes me look at the world differently and start asking different questions. What does it mean when eight out of ten of the biggest risks to our prosperity and wellbeing are ecological problems that we have caused ourselves? (Global Risk Report 2020, World Economic Forum)? Why don’t we read about this in the media and it wasn’t news to Nieuwsuur? Click here for a PDF version of the nearly 100-page report.
So on this blog you won’t find news about events, but stories, opinions and podcasts that are newsworthy and true. Events, in the past, present or future that replace the sensational with the fundamental and replace the recent with the relevant. I don’t have to sell magazines or give talks for ratings. It is not my business model, nor am I part of the attention economy. For me, the number of likes and other clickbait on social media are at best a result of my Intent.
It’s about real progress
By sharing knowledge and experiences with each other, we can make the world a little more beautiful and leave it better than we found it at our birth. In other words, it’s about real progress. Progress for everything that lives together in radical dependence. Within the limits of our ecosystems and planet.
My belief in progress is not an unfounded hope. Believing in progress is a rational, factual observation. A certainty, provided you are and remain connected to the Intention. And don’t let it erode because you hold on to non-negotiable values. Under all circumstances. Because you know that we humans have unlimited potential and are capable of realizing the impossible. Simply because it had never been realized before. We humans are unique. Have you ever seen a monkey on the moon? Or a Golden retriever with an iPhone? Has a gorilla ever been convicted of a drug offense or speeding?
Funnily enough, fewer and fewer people believe in progress. In fact, a majority of people in dozens of countries believe we are going in the wrong direction. They do not see that the cumulative crises are the solution. That the shore is turning the ship. The idea that our children and grandchildren will have a worse life than us is also becoming increasingly widespread. That may be true from an economic perspective, but certainly not socially and spiritually. Welfare becomes more important than prosperity. Ego more important than eco. And inclusiveness far more eminent than exclusiveness, with an elite eager to keep wealth, knowledge and access to technology separate.
News erodes our faith in progress
Fake news, sensational news, irrelevant “big stories,” extraordinary events, negative portrayals-what do they contribute? This kind of news mainly spreads indignation and pessimism. It does not share knowledge, confidence, let alone wisdom. It makes us skeptical about our ability to help the world one step further. But it really can be done differently. Our destiny is best served by sharing knowledge, information, experiences and wisdom – rather than outrage, uncertainty and fear. If we understand the world and each other better together, we can change it together. Not just because we have to, but mostly because it’s incredibly fun. Together, we can still move forward.
And that was the news. But real news.
source: De Correspondent, 25 sept 2018.
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