The Phaserl


“Fake News”, Censorship, Darwin and Democracy

by Charles Hugh Smith, Of Two Minds:

Censorship is not helpful to democracy–rather, it is the death of democracy.

The mainstream media is awash with hyper-active headlines about “fake news.” How can we make sense of this sudden obsession?

Perhaps we can start by separating “news” from “analysis” from “commentary.” “News” is “he said this, she did that, this happened.” Analysis tries to make sense of trends that are apparent in the news longer-term–for example, why did Trump win? Is the economy actually healthy or not? “Commentary” is opinion that establishes a point of view and defends it while attacking other POVs.

All three of these news flows are constantly being spun /manipulated to support specific agendas and narratives. Now we are being told some of these news flows are false/ misleading and their intent is to disrupt democracy.

I would counter that censorship is not helpful to democracy–rather, it is the death of democracy. It’s all too obvious in the MSM hysteria over “fake news” that the narrative being pushed is: any criticism of Hillary or questions about her health, foundation, etc., were BY DEFINITION Russian propaganda.

Never mind that few if any voters changed their mind as a result of the “Russian hacking” (the Podesta emails); voters were already so polarized that the content of the the emails did not influence their decision, which was based on deeper foundations than “news.”

The fear of those who want to preserve democracy is that under the excuse of “eliminating Russian propaganda” the status quo will restrict everyone who is inconveniently challenging the status quo narratives with data-based analysis.

One of the underlying issues in the “fake news” narrative is: the Internet is a new medium. It enables seamless surfing over an endless range of topics and images, it enriches those who design click-bait headlines that grab our attention, it enables access to “forbidden” material such as pornography, and it enables participation in content creation: posting text and photos on Facebook, Twitter, etc., adding comments to others’ posts, and establishing feeds, websites and blogs.

Media philosopher Marshall McCluhan proposed asking four questions of any new medium–with “medium” meaning the type of media: film, TV, print, comics, etc.

What does the medium enhance?

What does the medium make obsolete?

What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?

What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?

If we ask these questions of the World Wide Web/Internet, how do we answer?

What does the medium enhance? One possible answer is attention deficit disorder, as the web enables and even encourages a prosess of surfing that deranges our attention and our ability to think critically about the flood of content we’re leapfrogging.

But a second potential answer is that the web enhances accessing the truly vast array of human knowledge and a taggering trove of information.

What does the medium make obsolete? One answer is “the conventional centralized corporate media” which curates, edits and massages the news flow to support specific narratives.

Another possible answer is “deep learning” as the temptation to jump to the next lilly pad overwhlems the discipline and focus needed to master difficult and nuanced material.

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