Sunday, February 26, 2017

Inflammatory vs. Informative

The news media tends to play for attention.  It depends on attention for income.

We've all noticed how issues are exaggerated, twisted, slanted, and misrepresented.  Edited and out of context quotes are common and perhaps deliberately misleading, even from some mainstream sources.  Exaggerated news gets ratings, and ratings are directly tied to revenue. It's quick, it's sensational, it's shallow.  It's a business, not a service.

Then there is clickbait; those shocking 'news' items designed to generate advertising revenue. NASA forecast (left) is a deliberate lie; it didn't happen.

Then there's the one (right) that says police found 19 bodies in a freezer; also a lie. It was originated by Now8News several days ago, and it has been circulated by other similar sites.  Previous fake news by Now8News includes claims Walmart bananas carried deadly parasitic worms; a man fed his unfaithful fiancee’s remains to her unsuspecting parents; a man was discovered cannibalizing a teen inside a haunted house attraction; and that police found bodies in a Satanic dungeon under a Chuck E. Cheese.  They get points for creativity, I suppose, but the behavior should perhaps be constrained in some fashion.

Does it affect us?
In a statistical analysis of the top 20 real and top 20 fake election stories posted and shared on Facebook, fake news out-performed actual news in the final months before the election.  False stories about the Pope endorsing Trump and about ISIS supporting Clinton were among hundreds that were shared millions of times.

Did that affect the election?  Probably not, according to a Stanford study, but troublesome nonetheless.  Social media hosts are inquiring into the problem of fake news; no solutions yet.

Between fake news and biased mainstream news, where do we turn?
Here's a reasonable review of real news sources for both depth and bias.  The more difficult task, perhaps, is understanding our own preferential bias and degree of objectivity impairment.  UPDATE: Since President Trump's inauguration, CNN has become somewhat blind to news and focuses almost solely on criticizing the president. For the time being, they are not particularly helpful.  FOX has matured and advanced in popularity.

Find your own accepted news sources in the illustration; what might that profitably provide to us by way of a look at our own leanings, our own objectivity, and the depth of our own understanding?

Update: Breitbart lost another hundred advertisers bringing their total loss to around 1200.  Companies discovered their advertising being posted on the Breitbart site via the click-distribution Google provides and quickly pulled out in order to avoid being associated with the misinformation and alt-right extremes.

Update 2018:  With the new administration, most news media have moved left.  Moderate centrists have moved to liberal, and the nonsensical right-leaning media, particularly Fox News, have moved to a more right-moderate position.  MSNBC is reasonable for now.  CNN is sometimes left-irrational.

Rush Limbaugh remains extreme right, however, and regularly ranked between 50% and 84% inaccurate.  With four marriages and repeated drug problems, his popularity is not admiration of character but perhaps comedic appeal.  He's worth $500 million.  What does that tell us about ourselves as an audience?