Is there a false problem?


If you have followed the news a few years ago, you may have decided that we are living in it the golden age of conspiracy theories and disinformation.

Whether it’s QAnon or the January 6 terrorists or anti-vaccine hysteria, many believe that the originator, more often than not, is misinformed – and fiction-industrial complex what they create and disseminate – breaking the human brain.

However, I have read the article recently Harper Magazine it made me wonder if the story was as simple as that. I would not say that it changed my mind in any way about the real effects of lies, but it made me doubt some of my ideas about natural knowledge on the internet. It’s called “Bad News: Selling Disinformation Story,” and the author is Joseph Bernstein, BuzzFeed News’s chief technical journalist.

Bernstein does not deny that disinformation is a thing. The problem is that we do not have the same meaning for the words. The textbooks, says Bernstein, provide a wealth of unambiguous evidence, “which may lead to more misinformation about the state of the world.”

The larger meaning, he argues, is not as useful as the basis of direct study. And it is not clear how disinformation differs from falsehood, except that the former is seen as “deliberately misleading”. All of this leads Bernstein to say that even critics would disagree.

But the biggest – and the most incomprehensible – is that some interests are put in a false context as a problem because it is good for business and because it is a way of denying the real sources of our problems.

I reached out to him this week’s episode of Vox conversations to talk about where they think the false story was wrong and why it is not clear whether the internet confused American people or he released it.

Below is a modified section for our discussion. As always, there is more in the full podcast, so subscribe Vox conversations pa Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to the postcards.


Sean Illing

I’ve spent a lot of time over the last few years making a lot of false and misleading noise and how big the problem is, and I must say, you have made me stop for a moment and think deeply about how easily I bought it. common sense on these things.

But just get started: Do you think that people like me, who have been openly concerned about drugs, have been terrified?

Joe Bernstein

I think the idea of ​​a lot of bad things on the internet is not very clear and is sometimes misinterpreted. That’s a great theme. That’s a new topic. This is a very important topic, but like most problems, it helps to explain it better. And if you find it difficult to talk about it, it helps you to think about why. And when you start to think about why, it helps you to think about who is trying to explain the problem and why.

And so, I’m not even afraid to call it quits because I think, especially as we’ve seen with these revelations in and the Wall Street Journal over the past few weeks, and then the evidence of Facebook whistleblower, these are real problems. It is not clear to me whether we have a clear understanding of what is at stake or whether we have a clear understanding of how these groups are being thrown around – and sometimes I am also throwing them around, wrong and confusing – the way they are doing. work.

And that’s what I want to do: not to mention that a number of private companies that have control over the flow of information is something we should enjoy and experience, but that when we talk about the problem, we need to understand who it is. he wants to explain why.

Sean Illing

It may surprise people to realize that even researchers who study disinformation cannot explain the meaning of the term.

Joe Bernstein

This is one of the things I played and laughed at on the piece. What experts can say is that they have a lexical problem. Everyone knows there is a problem, but everyone is attacking the story with the same words, with different ideas in their head.

That’s why the most in-depth academic research is coming out of 2018. It’s a research on scientific literature called “Social Media, Political Polarization, and Political Disinformation.” And the interpretations they give are false – and this is a good, comprehensive study of the field – this is the meaning it gives: “Disinformation was created to be a great group of explanations of the kinds of information that one can encounter online that can lead to misconceptions about the real state of the world. . ”

Now, as far as I know, this definition applies to anything you may encounter online. And Sean, I have to explain the point, this comes down to the definitions that professional companies use when interpreting errors and inaccuracies. The reason – I don’t really understand this – but TikTok’s false definition is like, “a lot that is not true or that can be misleading or untrue.” There is not much there. There is a lot of good research, but for something that wants to be like a solid science, there is no good foundation.

Sean Illing

The big problem here is that we want a kind of non-political interpretation that we can call something “disinformation” without looking like politics, but it seems impossible.

Joe Bernstein

Yes. And then, one of the interesting things for me was when I looked up the etymology of the word – literally borrowing from a Russian word that became popular in the early years of the Cold War: dezinformatsiya. It was first described in the 1952 Great Soviet Encyclopedia, which was like a false encyclopedia describing the use of English. It read: “Newspaper headlines or radio broadcasts aimed at misleading the public. The capitalist and radio presses make extensive use of dezinformatsiya. ”

I do not mean to be sure that there are no things that are true or false. Yes, there is. But on the internet in particular, stories are very important, and it is very difficult to leave out other information as good or bad.

Sean Illing

What is the true meaning of “disinformation”? How does this differ from “false” or “false”?

Joe Bernstein

I like the word propaganda more than I like the word mis- and disinformation because I think it has a strong political meaning. I think there is a great understanding between educated people and people who speak lies and distortions on television, that spreading false news is more intentional than just telling lies, and false stories are not clear but true or “true”.

What I want to do with this piece is make sure that these definitions have the politics behind them, the way the people who use them have the politics behind them. I don’t think there is anything wrong with using the word, as long as it is clear that there is a preference.

And I don’t mean another kind of conspiracy. It hurts me to say – maybe I didn’t say enough in the piece – that there are people who work in good faith, who care deeply about public affairs, who are studying the problem. I just want to realize that the use of the term has politics after all, whether I am a middle man or an ordinary politician. I want this to be part of the discussion.

Sean Illing

What it says about you is that the desire for disinformation has become a way to promote online advertising, and it would seem counterintuitive to say that Big Tech companies like Facebook would enthusiastically embrace the idea of ​​”disinformation” as a major problem.

What will a company like Facebook get here? Why are they selling this so hard?

Joe Bernstein

Well, one of the things that made me think about this was, I started with the kind of buzzword I used; “Information Ecosystem.” It just seems like it sounds natural. We have a world, a natural world of knowledge, and then something has gotten dirty. And then I started thinking about other polluting industries, which are getting into trouble because of pollution.

Just like the tobacco industry – which has recently become a major player in the recent technological revolution – well, cigarettes give people cancer. Or the oil industry, which pollutes and contributes to climate change. And there’s good science behind it. And yet the industry has for many years been fighting science, trying to disrupt science.

And I was shocked when I thought about how long it took Facebook to be prosecuted, for throwing the 2016 election in favor of Trump and Brexit, when Mark Zuckerberg openly admitted that the lies were complex. And we believe that to be true, but I don’t think science exists. I don’t think political media education is still there.

I mean, we still find political science on what Mr. Coughlin did, I believe, in the 1936 election. These are questions that will be answered in due course. But you had Mark Zuckerberg in public saying, “We’ll get rid of the lies.”

In short, that’s why I think Facebook has never had a way to promote journalists. But the other part, I think, is that Facebook has quickly recognized, like other major technology companies, that instead of just saying, “This is not true. This statement, there is no solid basis behind it,” I think they realized that connecting, or putting their hands around people those doing the research, it was a better option.

And I began to wonder why. From a public point of view, it makes sense. Also, I began to think about the nature of the same claim, that people who are misinformed are convinced by that knowledge. And then, that’s when I had a moment of “eureka”, which was exactly how Facebook makes money. What Hannah Arendt calls the “human imagination,” which is almost verbal.

Therefore, if we acknowledge that people are forever fascinated by any of the evils they see on Facebook, the Internet, we are in some way supporting the idea that both ads, Facebook and Google as well as all online advertisements, work.

I’m still going, but there’s a horrible book I read at the time with someone who is now a great Substack instructor. It’s a man named Tim Wong, who works for Google for a long time. The book is called Subprime Attention Crisis. And it’s just a matter of how many online advertising companies have credit cards.

What is even more interesting is what the Facebook whistleblower revealed to the SEC, as well as what was not heard by the media, that it is, based on Facebook’s internal investigation, that it is misleading investors to reach out and do better for their business. And for me, the worst thing you can say on Facebook is that this type of information technology doesn’t work.

And so the brand has turned everything I think of into this on its own. And that’s when I started writing the piece.

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