Fake News, Conspiracy Theories and the Effect of 'Media Literacy'
January 6, 2017 7:49 AM   Subscribe

danah boyd discusses how a wide spread way of media literacy was probably more harmful than helpful. "[T]oo many students I met were being told that Wikipedia was untrustworthy and were, instead, being encouraged to do research. As a result, the message that many had taken home was to turn to Google and use whatever came up first. They heard that Google was trustworthy and Wikipedia was not."
posted by katta (116 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
Jesus fuck. That is really not how to do primary sources.
posted by Artw at 7:58 AM on January 6, 2017 [8 favorites]


Well that was depressing.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:02 AM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


Do their heads explode when the first Google return is a Wikipedia link?
posted by Thorzdad at 8:09 AM on January 6, 2017 [17 favorites]


I am not really sure what is being described here is "media literacy" gone wrong, its more the equivalent academic rogeour of to a conspiracy theorists profound distrust of everything except the thing they've decided to be a chump for.

Unfortunately it appears to be the primary mode of thinking in America and vastly more so in the underpopulated parts of America whose votes count for more.
posted by Artw at 8:10 AM on January 6, 2017 [8 favorites]


Do their heads explode when the first Google return is a Wikipedia link?

Skim down till you get to infowars.
posted by Artw at 8:11 AM on January 6, 2017 [8 favorites]


I read this article thinking, if her thesis is correct, how can we even have a functioning society, when groups are so far apart in what is considered a credible source of information. Then I got to this part:
In the United States, we’re moving towards tribalism, and we’re undoing the social fabric of our country through polarization, distrust, and self-segregation. And whether we like it or not, our culture of doubt and critique, experience over expertise, and personal responsibility is pushing us further down this path.
What a mess. Maybe all we can do is not spread any fake news. Even if the Fairness Doctrine were reinstated, who then would be the arbiter of truth? The current executive branch? Congress?

Color me (extra) disturbed this morning.
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 8:24 AM on January 6, 2017 [10 favorites]


Lots of logical leaps in this effort.

abstinence-only education approach, but I don’t remember how the topic of pregnancy came up. What I do remember is her telling me that she and her friends talked a lot about pregnancy and “diseases” she could get through sex. As I probed further, she matter-of-factly explained a variety of “facts” she had heard that were completely inaccurate. You couldn’t get pregnant until you were 16. AIDS spreads through kissing. Etc. I asked her if she’d talked to her doctor about any of this, and she looked me as though I had horns. She explained that she and her friends had done the research themselves, by which she meant that they’d identified websites online that “proved” their beliefs.
.... Too many students I met were being told that Wikipedia was untrustworthy and were, instead, being encouraged to do research. As a result, the message that many had taken home was to turn to Google and use whatever came up first. They heard that Google was trustworthy and Wikipedia was not.


That girl was the product of 30+ years of religious brainwashing and deliberate bubble creation, not a creation of Wikipedia distrust. She was being taught in an abstinence-only sex ed program FFS. The top google hit for "can you get aids from kissing" is not some Christian site, she was either directed to go there by the teacher or her parents.

That said, much of "media literacy" classes were designed when people trusted news sources implicitly. The problem is now not a lack of suspicion, it is absolute distrust of non tribe sources and a disbelief in externally verifiable reality.
posted by benzenedream at 8:24 AM on January 6, 2017 [14 favorites]


Civilization was nice while it lasted.
posted by SansPoint at 8:25 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


Skim down till you get to infowars.

Basically.
posted by Fizz at 8:26 AM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


Another quick point: Even high levels of education won't save you from this phenomenon necessarily. I mean look at Ben Carson and Mehmet Oz. These men have been two of the finest surgeons in the world and they both pedal bullshit outside their fields of expertise with seeming sincerity. Bah.
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 8:29 AM on January 6, 2017 [9 favorites]


i spent a little bit lurking around on r/The_Donald after the election and noticed people talking about "conspiracy theorists" in the same way i think many coastal elites might think about "literary theorists". like, they might not be right about everything, but they are at least producing valuable knowledge and their readings can be useful and informative.

i think for a lot of people who are deeply engaged in the online discussions belief is more performative than sincere. like if you made paranoid redditors have some skin in the game, somehow, most would repudiate it all pretty quickly and you'd be left with only the real true believer core.

normal people who don't spend their whole fucking lives posting, when they just stumble upon these communities tend to give them more respect/trust than they merit. older people especially. they have a heuristic that if someone published it, it must have at least some merit. they're used to a world with some kind of gatekeepers, even if the gatekeepers might have an agenda. if they actually engage a little more, they usually go "holy cow these people are unhinged".

i've seen this with some older people I know. it's not that they no longer care about facts or reality (this is a small minority i think). just, if it isn't true, what motive would someone have to post lies online? they aren't quite used to the postmodern world of total epistemic depravity that we now live in.

i guess the left-wing equivalent would purity-obsessed environmentalists or something but it does seem to be a much stronger phenomenon on the right.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:32 AM on January 6, 2017 [25 favorites]


The author has confused religious brainwashing with media literacy.

I don't buy the super hard work that our media did to debunk "fake news". All I heard from NBC, NPR, etc. going into the election was "Comey and EMAILS". The entire thing appeared to be a fake smear against Hillary. Anybody listening to those reports would gather that Hillary and Trump were more-or-less equivalent.

I think that the real takeaway is that our media is pretty much entirely "Fake News". Some faker than others....
posted by pdoege at 8:34 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


From a researcher, this seems oddly impressionistic and divorced from historical context. "From what I can gather, it seems as though liberals were far more likely to spread this story than conservatives." Is this based on anything other than her own gut feeling?

The mention of "snowflakes" and a mindset of "experience over expertise" being mostly blamed on marginalized people also seem suspect. Are young people in fact more credulous on average than other age groups? Are poor people? Are people more easily duped today than they were 50 years ago? Those sex myths are the same ones that have been around forever. I highly doubt that those girls confirmed them on the internet through targeted research. Googling around them leads to pages and pages of debunking. And the teen pregnancy rate has declined dramatically since the early 90s.
posted by otio at 8:36 AM on January 6, 2017 [6 favorites]


The U.S. Media’s Problems Are Much Bigger than Fake News and Filter Bubbles

Analysis of Big Media's business model shows three different ways it's broken. Including advertising revenue.

What it doesn't cover is how that now applies to websites like Google, and connecting networks like you know who.

Also, note Medium.
posted by infini at 8:37 AM on January 6, 2017 [6 favorites]


One of the reasons I've become skeptical about claims that so-and-so's pedagogy inculcates or models "critical thinking" &c. (my own included) is that academics are just as likely to fall for websites (or other sources) that confirm their pre-existing political prejudices as their students, even when folks with greater expertise in the area politely explain that such-and-such is actually balderdash. Dispassionate evaluation usually collapses in the face of passionate attachment. (Unlike vogon_poet, I don't think this phenomenon is particularly right-wing in its tilt.)

I actually don't tell students that Wikipedia is "wrong" or "unreliable"; I tell them that you use it as any encyclopedia, to check facts. But I use danah boyd, as it happens, to explain Wikipedia's limits: her running battle with them about whether to capitalize her name or not. We talk about "no original research" and the like, go through the edit history and discussion pages on contested entries, etc. IOW, "when do you use Wikipedia," not "approach it with a crucifix, stake, and garlic."

I started thinking about the Google problem many years ago when one of my comp students wrote a paper on a hot-button topic and supplied some really...odd...statistics to support their claims. So I went looking to see what their search terms pulled up. I think the first reliable results (i.e., stats gathered by a nonpartisan organization with clearly stated methodology and controls) came up somewhere in the 50s or 60s in the search returns. Most people don't look that far! Similarly, the thought of telling someone to go "educate themselves" about anything related to Judaism, as opposed to me doing the work of explaining and/or supplying a reliable source, always brings on an attack of ROTFL. Some queries bring up anti-Semitic/neo-Nazi results in the top ten.
posted by thomas j wise at 8:37 AM on January 6, 2017 [23 favorites]


Young Relative: "You can't believe what you read on Wikipedia - ANYONE could have written it!"
Me: "...unlike just about any other website?"
YR: "Well that's what my teacher said!"

I've had this conversation three times, I think.
posted by colin.jaquiery at 8:37 AM on January 6, 2017 [25 favorites]


The upside of such gross errors of synthesis from observations by the op is taht it weakens the framework of the communication narrative strategy.
posted by infini at 8:39 AM on January 6, 2017


Here's Justin Lewis and Sut Jhally arguing for a form of media literacy that openly addresses politics back in 1998.
posted by thetortoise at 8:45 AM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]


>The upside of such gross errors of synthesis from observations by the op is taht it weakens the framework of the communication narrative strategy.

Infini could you elaborate on your point? It sounds like an interesting one.
posted by matrixclown at 8:50 AM on January 6, 2017


I think another problem we have is the mis-application of postmodernist literary theory to the world. As someone who studied Computer Science only to switch to English, I've seen both sides of this. XKCD lays the basics out, satirically, but let me dive in a little deeper.

The thing that drives a lot of sciencey folks nuts about literary theory, and so on, is that there's no "correct" answers in it. Anything can mean anything if you can make the right argument based on the text. Authorial intent is bunk. This is a powerful tool for doing analysis of literature, but the moment you start taking it out and applying it all willy-nilly to the Real World, things get really hairy, really fast.

But this post-modern literary analysis stuff is taught, often poorly, in English classes under the general education requirements needed for most college degrees. Without further training on how to use literary theory, and when, having this tool is dangerous, because it allows you to rewrite narritives and factual information with no recourse. It gets to the point where people can't even agree on what words mean, and when you can't even have a discussion without some form of common, agreed upon definitions of words, you can't have a discussion, period.

I'm sure I'm overreaching as well, and I look forward to someone putting me in my place a bit. But when I see people redefining "Diversity" as "White Genocide", I have to scream (internally, usually) WORDS HAVE MEANINGS, DAMN IT. But words only mean what we choose them to mean. Orwell invented a new language, Newspeak, as a way to control thought. Turns out he didn't need to, when we were more than willing to adjust meanings in our own language, instead.
posted by SansPoint at 8:51 AM on January 6, 2017 [18 favorites]


Civilization was nice while it lasted.

Eh, it wasn't all that great.
posted by Faint of Butt at 8:51 AM on January 6, 2017 [9 favorites]


Also, with regard to Wikipedia specifically: this is one site where information professionals regularly do fact-checking and editing, and in fact devote a lot of time and effort to doing so. I've never participated in an edit-a-thon myself, but there have been lots of examples to point to. Note that there aren't Infowars edit-a-thons or Alternet edit-a-thons. Just Wikipedia.

Also, librarians in general. Just saying.
posted by witchen at 8:57 AM on January 6, 2017 [13 favorites]


I don't know about the individual leaps/conclusions that the author draws, but I do think it's fair to say that it's always been hard to know what is true and what isn't. It's just that there's MORE information now, and with that comes more disinformation as well, and more consequences.

There is never ever going to be a magic pill to fix that fact. Sure, there's bullshit on Wikipedia. But I'm sure the Encyclopedia Britannica had some things wrong too. And major news outlets (or scientific journals) do have retractions. The most honest person in the world can be misinformed. And so on.

There's nothing you can trust 100% of the time, and the burden of critical thinking/checking the sources/etc will never go away. It's hard. But I don't see a way around it.
posted by aperturescientist at 8:58 AM on January 6, 2017


Who would have guessed that the Epic 2014 video about NewsbotSter and GoogleZon with the Batman voice narration basically nailed it?

(and here's the 2004 thread!)
posted by theodolite at 9:05 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


People blaming the media environment are confusing cause and effect. The polarization that grips us was mostly enabled by the supremacy of the private automobile. Our self-segregation and isolation began with a physical one, and only many decades later we recognize what a social disaster it has been when the mass media ceases being a countervailing force that created a common dialog and space. Now we can all be siloed into our own little online communities just like our racially homogenous gated communities and we can enforce conformity in our online speech just like our HOA regulates how often our neighbors cut their lawns and what color they can paint their house.

When the history of our era is written, I'm confident the private car will be seen as a social cancer that almost destroyed us, or more likely, did destroy us, and is responsible for the blasted hellscape the historians inherited.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 9:14 AM on January 6, 2017 [15 favorites]


Infini could you elaborate on your point?

While I'm not wholly there yet, having only today said that while the weak signals are showing up in global mainstream media, I'll let it rest for another month or so before looking to see if the trend becomes stronger.

Here are some rather pointedly obvious examples of counter-to-the-narrative articles from the last day or two:

Financial Times' Martin Wolf: "A divided, inward-looking & mismanaged west is likely to become highly destabilising"

This sounds more like your average Latin American or African or South Asian country. This theme is also one of the keys in the framework of global narrative, yes? The West is the beacon of stability and order for the rest of the chaotic world - how much more comfortable are you in reading that familiar sentence?

the Atlantic “America’s incentive system for long-term investment is broken"

When was the last time you recall reading a mainstream magazine's article questioning some of the fundamental principles of Wall Street, instead of the usual headline of "Wall St analysts say that XX Corp is being silly by investing in retraining when they can offshore"?
This article is supported by a manifesto embedded in it by the Aspen Institute.

There are more such, but as I said at the start, not as obvious as examples of counter troping the existing narrative of decades.

Did you know that China just successfully sent a freight train full of cargo to London? by land?

Still looking at the pragmatic knitting together of the traditionally broken and terrible parts of the world in their own media. Mainstream still holding on to the next key framework of their narrative which is that everyone out there is suffering and broken and making bad decisions. A quick look at the economic narratives out of most of these basketcases point to more than just a short term problem - i.e. we've been hearing about the One Belt One Road program to rebuild the infrastructure of the Silk Road trading routes for some years now.

This is a newly born blindspot, similar to the author's analysis (whom I've been reading since she blogged her dissertation), one which seems to tread a more cautious path around the slaveringly unpredictable wildbeast with the tremendous power to shift teh stockmarket with just a miracle of one hundred and forty characters.

is it the normalization of the new new or just the fear of being jobless and broke? I don't know but the crafters of the narrative strategies of the past century based their framework on certain assumptions which may not be holding true - Project Syndicate Jeffery Sachs - but are necessary to prop up the expectations of the regime?

Filterbubbles can dominate entire ideologies and planning committees, not just your old high school friends.
posted by infini at 9:15 AM on January 6, 2017 [9 favorites]


I once looked something up on Wikipedia to prove a friend of mine was wrong, because she was, and as soon as I went to the site, her teenaged son went "OOOOH" like you do when someone's about to get in trouble.

So yeah, his teacher had actually told the class that Wikipedia was flat out wrong, and was a bad lying site, and that they not only shouldn't cite Wikipedia as a source, but should never even go there. Apparently, she'd accept just about anything that looked like a news site, though. That does happen.

And as boyd points out, this thing where we blow smoke up kids' asses about how great they are with technology really doesn't help either. Yeah, they're digital natives and they're pretty comfortable using internet connected devices, but that doesn't mean they know how they work, either in the technical or social sense, and by telling them they're these masters of technology because they are comfortable navigating user interfaces on mass produced consumer devices, we're priming them to trust their own perceptions rather than to listen to people who are better informed.

But a lot of the problem with stories getting legs the way they do is that the vast majority of people don't RTFA. They just see headlines, and those headlines create generalized impressions. You see "Clinton" and "investigation" and "emails" in enough headlines, and you're going to have the general impression that Clinton must be some sort of criminal who did something bad with email, even though you don't know the specifics or anything.

And nobody can click through all the stories. There are too many, most of them don't really matter much, and media outlets get more and more ridiculous and sensational in their headlines chasing those clicks.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:18 AM on January 6, 2017 [34 favorites]


Truth and truth, what is truth!
posted by grumpybear69 at 9:21 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Excommunicated Cardinal: Another quick point: Even high levels of education won't save you from this phenomenon necessarily. I mean look at Ben Carson and Mehmet Oz. These men have been two of the finest surgeons in the world and they both pedal bullshit outside their fields of expertise with seeming sincerity. Bah.

Counterpoint: Some Guy Named Mehmet peddles bullshit because it sells. Carson baffles me - he's not selling things when he says the pyramids were built to store grain.


I think this shouldn't be sold as "media literacy" and more as "critical thinking" - my younger sister and my father were duped by a Craigslist apartment scam, which requested bank account information to confirm .. something. My sister is a health care service provider, and my father is a lawyer. My brother and I were baffled about how they thought that might even be a legitimate thing.

Teaching critical thinking could also help people work in their best interest, in theory (which could put a serious damper on the GOP, so that idea is dead in the water).

Thinking more broadly, I wonder if there have been any studies on skills in math and sciences versus such beliefs. I bring this up because those fields are built on testing and confirming information. At its core, they are logic problems. Of course, it means that people need to apply such reasoning to their lives beyond math and science applications.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:21 AM on January 6, 2017 [8 favorites]


I wonder how much of these issues are caused by people being more used to simply react and forgot (or never learned) how to think.

We live in an age of readily available facts (and "facts"), and are also used to put a question in google, and within seconds, get an answer that in most non-contended cases is correct, forgetting that does not work with everything. We stopped questioning the answers.
It's funny to see the "traditional media" (old and new press) up in arms about "fake news", when they have been deceptively using misleading titles (not clickbait - actual glass half-empty/half-full scenarios) to push some agenda. The content is not fake - but the context it is might be is a total fabrication.

So, yeah. Ultimately, I think this battle can only be won if people learn to actually think again instead of reaching for that share/retweet button or pick the appropriate reaction face thingy on facebook. And education won't solve this; I don't even know if schools are even capable of teaching students how to think as opposed to get a number, date, formula or whatever right on paper. To put it simple, it feels knowing the "when" is more important than the "why".
posted by lmfsilva at 9:22 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Thinking more broadly, I wonder if there have been any studies on skills in math and sciences versus such beliefs. I bring this up because those fields are built on testing and confirming information. At its core, they are logic problems. Of course, it means that people need to apply such reasoning to their lives beyond math and science applications.

Chief economist of Bank of England admits errors in Brexit forecasting

“We are still expecting this rather difficult balancing act for monetary policy with a slowing, not a huge slowing, but nonetheless a material slowing, during the course of next year as the effects of higher prices in the shops begin to chew away a little at the spending power of consumers and cause them to rein back a little in their spending. That remains our central view, with huge amounts of uncertainty around it.”

He blamed decades of education policies – that had left numeracy levels in England only just above Albania – for holding back improvements in productivity. He said the lack of numeracy skills was stark in comparison with other countries, which placed more emphasis on workers having more than a basic level of maths.

Haldane said: “I’ll give an example of where Britain is punching well below its weight and that’s in core numeracy skills. There are 17 million people who have levels of numeracy that are no better than those expected of primary age children. In a recent OECD study that looked at numeracy as it applies to financial literacy, the UK came 17th, just above Albania, on questions of financial literacy.”

He added that the UK’s lack of numeracy skills across more than half the working population was a key reason for its lack of productivity growth since the financial crisis.



South Africa has one of the world’s worst education systems


South Africa has the most unequal school system in the world, says Nic Spaull of the University of Stellenbosch. The gap in test scores between the top 20% of schools and the rest is wider than in almost every other country. Of 200 black pupils who start school just one can expect to do well enough to study engineering. Ten white kids can expect the same result.

Many of the problems have their roots in apartheid. The Bantu Education Act of 1953 set out to ensure that whites received a better education than blacks, who were, according to Hendrik Verwoerd, the future prime minister then in charge of education, to be educated only enough to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water”. Black pupils received about a fifth of the funding of white peers. They were taught almost no maths or science. Most independent church-run schools that provided a good education in black areas were shut.


All you need to do is look at SA's current economic status. Financial literacy is very low. Huge challenges across teh board.
posted by infini at 9:26 AM on January 6, 2017


Even high levels of education won't save you from this phenomenon necessarily.

Consider the Washington Post. Quick show of hands: How many of you believe that Russia hacked Vermont's electrical grid? That published story was completely bogus. And then it gets tweeted out by "respectable" highly educated and credentialed journalists who all have large followings and the story goes viral. And then, of course, we come to find out that it was completely false or fake (not sure if there is a difference) but these same journalists don't tweet that retraction back out, allowing the lie to fester in the public domain. They didn't even contact the Vermont utility before publishing their rubbish. One small fix to this mess would be for so called respectable news outlets like the Washington Post and NYT to hit the reset button and reestablish some sound journalistic practices and then maybe they can regain some of their lost integrity.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 9:28 AM on January 6, 2017 [6 favorites]


> Carson baffles me - he's not selling things when he says the pyramids were built to store grain.

He says that as part of pitching his belief system. Proselytizing his faith could be as important to him as making money.
posted by at by at 9:32 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


My sense is that the issue isn't media literacy per se, it's that we have all induced in ourselves a rather extreme state of hyperreality, and two really dangerous aspects of that are pretty clearly evident: most of us have no idea how profoundly disconnected from the 'real,' unmediated, empirical world our daily, lived experiences typically are; and, as a result, lots of people are blithely acting in ways to make the fictional realities of their consciousness (i.e., epistemic closure, post-truth opinions) real, with no idea that there could be consequences that they neither anticipate nor desire. (It also makes otherwise smart people kind of stupid, because mediated interactions often suspend real-world wariness and critical mindsets.)

I wrote a much longer comment about this the other day (here, if you're interested), but what comes through to me in this piece, and others like it, is that these kids are not merely uncritical or ignorant about information media, they do not seem to have a sense of either objective truth as a thing, or of any empirical process to discern accurate information--or of any need for that. This is the most important thing happening to us right now, in my opinion, and wider understanding of what we've done to ourselves, how our waking consciousness and perceptions have been pretty thoroughly polluted and manipulated by technological mediation, is quite urgent.

We cannot keep trying to make the world be like we think it should be, despite all practical constraints of reality. It is exceptionally, unpredictably dangerous (ref: Trump), and we mostly don't even know that we're doing it. I have no idea how to disrupt it, so that people can wake up for a moment from the daily mesmerization rituals we all have of staring at screens, navigating and knowing the world through mediation of all kinds, etc. Not much daily, direct experience out there for most of us: I drive to work, so my feet don't touch the ground; most of the people I communicate with at work on a given day are reached via intermediation (email, phone, text) and not in-person; nearly all of my information about the world around me--including the weather!--comes through a screen, not from walking around and looking and seeing and hearing and smelling and talking to folks myself; and so on. Daily, very little of my lived experience is direct and primary source. Our organism, particularly its consciousness, did not evolve in environments where it had to adapt to this, and by all evidence we are reacting badly.

The polarization that grips us was mostly enabled by the supremacy of the private automobile.

Actually, not to be facetious, but Americans' enthusiastic embrace of the private automobile and the "freedom" it offered was, to a great degree, reaction against the claustrophobic, awful nature of life in cities, which was of course the result of industrialization. So the problem likely really started with industrialization and migration from more communal, village life to large urban populations, etc. That seems to me when our large-scale habits of living first really moved out of sync with what our organism had adapted to up to that point--and that was only about 150 years ago, so we may very well still be living through the continued effects of that initial catalyst.

this thing where we blow smoke up kids' asses about how great they are with technology really doesn't help either. Yeah, they're digital natives and they're pretty comfortable using internet connected devices, but that doesn't mean they know how they work, either in the technical or social sense, and by telling them they're these masters of technology because they are comfortable navigating user interfaces on mass produced consumer devices, we're priming them to trust their own perceptions rather than to listen to people who are better informed.


This is a really important point. As a Gen Xer teaching college students, I find that I am much more computer literate and savvy than they are now, because I understand how computers and networks and operating systems work (in a conceptual sense, at least), where they really only know user interfaces and gadgets. They are shockingly computer illiterate, for so-called digital natives. (My sense is that Gen X are properly called the digital natives: we got a Commodore Vic 20 when I was like 8, and I learned how to program and every home computer we had following grew in sophistication with the industry. I grew up using each generation of home computing technology, including early adoption of regular internet use. How in the heck are kids born in the 90s or 00s more native than that?)
posted by LooseFilter at 9:33 AM on January 6, 2017 [59 favorites]


As a Gen Xer teaching college students, I find that I am much more computer literate and savvy than they are now, because I understand how computers and networks and operating systems work (in a conceptual sense, at least), where they really only know user interfaces and gadgets. They are shockingly computer illiterate, for so-called digital natives. (My sense is that Gen X are properly called the digital natives: we got a Commodore Vic 20 when I was like 8, and I learned how to program and every home computer we had following grew in sophistication with the industry. I grew up using each generation of home computing technology, including early adoption of regular internet use. How in the heck are kids born in the 90s or 00s more native than that?)

yes exactly.

And everything you said. And the previously. Thank you for the sensemaking.
posted by infini at 9:43 AM on January 6, 2017 [6 favorites]


LooseFilter: what comes through to me in this piece, and others like it, is that these kids are not merely uncritical or ignorant about information media, they do not seem to have a sense of either objective truth as a thing, or of any empirical process to discern accurate information--or of any need for that

There's a lot to unpack in your post, and I'm going to read your previous one, but this caught my eye. I think there is a _lot_ of demand for objective truth, but no sense of how to get it, or even what objectivity is. Part of this, I suspect, stems from the mis-application of post-modernist theory outside of literature and art, but also from a general shift in media.

I'm going to drag GamerGate into this, and I apologize in advance, but GamerGate revealed among a certain population of young men a desire to not talk about "subjective" concepts in their media such as story, characterization, etc., and focus on the "objective" aspects. Whatever those are, well, who knows? I don't think they know. But the desire is there to just know that this Thing they are consuming is "objectively" good or bad—for values of good or bad equal to worth spending money on.

I've seen this same sentiment expressed on other forms of media: movies, music, literature, etc. I don't think it's a leap to see it applied to news and other informational media as well.

The biggest problem however, is that in a quest for an ill-defined "objective" view, these people end up glomming to whatever reflects their own opinions or makes them feel smugly superior.
posted by SansPoint at 9:44 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


In this society, we have completely deprioritized information literacy and critical thinking skills. Many public schools don't have librarians anymore (these positions have been cut as school funding has been cut) and sometimes the first time good media literacy is encountered is in college... meaning a lot of people don't encounter it at all.

In this information-rich landscape we navigate, to not spend ANY time at all in school on how to think about and evaluate media we encounter daily is a disservice to civilization. OF COURSE people don't know what to believe, and often believe the wrong things. We haven't taught them otherwise.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:45 AM on January 6, 2017 [9 favorites]


I'm sure I'm overreaching as well, and I look forward to someone putting me in my place a bit. But when I see people redefining "Diversity" as "White Genocide", I have to scream (internally, usually) WORDS HAVE MEANINGS, DAMN IT. But words only mean what we choose them to mean. Orwell invented a new language, Newspeak, as a way to control thought. Turns out he didn't need to, when we were more than willing to adjust meanings in our own language, instead.

Orwell is a creature of the age of limited mass media. What he feared was the ability of the state to deliberately control information. Carroll is maybe a better prophet for our own age. The information ecosystem has heated up, and gone from the barren horizon of the plain to the dim intensity of a jungle, where a thousand thousand crawling beasts may thrive.

I don't think there's anything really new, or really American, in the human propensities to believe that which comforts, reject that which doesn't, and distrust anyone who tries to discomfort us. Are we really today any more distrustful of elites than the mob of backwoodsman and plunderers who elected Jackson? I doubt it, really. All we have now that's really different is more sources to pick from. The technology of the 20th century made mass media scarce. You had to have money and power to reach the masses, and those limits helped create an inertia of consensus, an elite-mediated mass truth. Two newspapers per city, three broadcast networks. Walter Cronkite and The Boys on the Bus to regurgitate it all into our fledgling minds.

Now you pick your poison. But the human impulse is the same. Snopes started out covering real urban legends, stuff people actual said to each other, before it became 24-7 crazy email forward debunking HQ. Same flavor, same tendencies, same temptation. Walter's dead and we're back to Marat in his garret, mad prophets dashing off wild screeds and rushing them out the streets with the ink still wet. All declaring themselves friends of the people.

It's a mug's game, trying to get everybody to agree on your version of the truth, now that they have access to pick their own favorite flavor. Better off aiming for power instead.
posted by Diablevert at 9:49 AM on January 6, 2017 [9 favorites]


it's that we have all induced in ourselves a rather extreme state of hyperreality

Totally agree. I've been saying this a lot the last year but I never thought the critical theory I was taught in art school (sorry STEM readers!) would be relevant to a presidential election or understanding the future of the US. But here we are in a world where "Society of the Spectacle" has basically come to pass almost exactly as Debord said it would. Capitalism has moved on from merely determining our consumer preferences to colonizing our internal states. What is Facebook, if not a machine for turning our emotions and opinions into profit? It does not matter whether our internal biases or emotional reactions to click-bait headlines are "objectively" true or have anything to do with reality, all that matters is that we keep passively staring into our phones, turning clicks into capital. And if your whole life is lived passively as the site of both consumption/production in this relationship, then the real world doesn't even fucking matter does it?

I find that I am much more computer literate and savvy than they are now, because I understand how computers and networks and operating systems work (in a conceptual sense, at least), where they really only know user interfaces and gadgets

So true and I see this in my own professional field. I get hired as a "digital technician" fairly often and the expectation from a lot of older professionals is that because I am semi young, I most know how to make all this work. Which I do, but It's interesting to me to see the difference between those of us who grew up programming BASIC on an Apple II and those who were online more around the AOL era. The perception by the olds is that we are all equally good at these things because we're "natives" but the difference in skill set is quite profound IMO. A lot of "digital natives", even those who work in technical jobs, simply do not understand how computers work conceptually and their knowledge ends at the UI.
posted by bradbane at 9:58 AM on January 6, 2017 [10 favorites]


this thing where we blow smoke up kids' asses about how great they are with technology really doesn't help either.

As an educational technologist, this is of professional importance to me and let me just say OMG YES CAN WE PLEASE STOP WITH THIS??? It is complete bunk.

I have a four-year-old who can use both Android and iOS devices and I want to pull my hair out whenever someone notices and starts oohing and ahhing about kids these days etc etc etc... It's not kids these days, it's UI designers these days. He's four. It's just another toy to him, and it will remain just another toy unless someone (me probably) actually teaches him, explicitly, about how computers work, what the internet is, how networking works, etc.... The fact that he can touch a thing and swipe a thing means nothing.

But there are so many adults my age and older who see the four-year-old using a tablet and just assume that their work is done as far as educating about technology, mass communication, and digital media. I see it all the time in my work.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:03 AM on January 6, 2017 [32 favorites]


We cannot keep trying to make the world be like we think it should be, despite all practical constraints of reality. It is exceptionally, unpredictably dangerous (ref: Trump), and we mostly don't even know that we're doing it. I have no idea how to disrupt it, so that people can wake up for a moment from the daily mesmerization rituals we all have of staring at screens, navigating and knowing the world through mediation of all kinds, etc.

I've been thinking a little bit about this, sort of - how the internet mediates my political activity, sometimes for the better but in several critical ways dramatically for the worse.

The internet has done some fantastic things for me - I have access to people talking about their experiences that I would not have encountered in real life; I have access to more deeply personal stuff than most people feel comfortable sharing face to face; I have access to far more research, reports, etc than I could ever have dreamed when I was younger. When I was little, I used to wish that I had a magic book which would have infinite stories so that I'd always have something fascinating to read. Now I have that book.

But I have also noticed a set of changes in my political life. My hope is that over time, the benefits of the internet can be separated from the drawbacks, because the drawbacks have been significant.

In the past few years, I feel like what I've noticed is mobbing, fear of mobbing, forgetting-about-mobbing and the creation of a false sense of unity among the people around me, plus the loss of willingness to buck the perceived consensus. These observations are not based on being at the sharp end - they're based on being casually engaged with much larger projects.

Fundamentally, the false sense of consensus among other people is the issue - the perception that whatever an individual may think, there's always-already a united radical/left crowd whose morals and politics are settled and reflect the correct - or at least the vast majority's - viewpoint. Before the internet, there was certainly opportunity for false sense of consensus - Doris Lessing, for instance, writes about this in the left of the fifties.

So I have noticed people to get in the headspace where, if they are questioned or criticized from the left, they automatically assume that there is a crushing consensus against them - that one critical comment on Facebook means that they are wrong and need to stop whatever it is.

In particular, I have noticed a number of times when projects have been criticized very harshly from within the left based on materially false information, and instead of responding that the critics are literally incorrect, the project runners have discontinued whatever was criticized, because responding "you are materially wrong for these reasons" just gets accusations of lies and escalates the situation. So for instance, someone who lives in California might post something horrible about a project in Minneapolis based on a misunderstanding....and that has tremendous power even though local people know that the criticism is materially wrong.

I've seen an event shut down a couple of hours before it was to happen because of Facebook comments that were based on materially false information, directly out of fear of an internet mobbing.

And then...there's the forgetting of internet mobbings. Like, if someone is all "we must never use this venue/work with this person/do this thing again because they are terrible", I take that pretty seriously. But I have noticed in the past few years that the speed and pervasiveness of internet mobbings mean that they happen, they are extremely distressing...and then everyone forgets about them. So people will be all up in arms about a place or person one month, and then it's like nothing happened the next, and when I'm all "but wasn't thing thing Officially Unacceptable as of last year" no one seems to remember.

Basically, when people get criticism in my activist community, many people just shut down completely because the criticism can be so pervasive, sudden and unstoppable. Which means that people are afraid to debate genuinely debatable questions of history and policy. I'm not talking about "should we be able to debate whether date rape is real" trollery; I'm talking about things where there really isn't a consensus, like "should straight allies run anti-homophobia trainings because this takes the burden off queer people or is that just going to result in straight people training others in incorrect ways? What do you do in a small community where there's a small population of trainers, so you can't just say "well make sure that every training is co-run by straight and queer people? How do straight allies decide how to take action when different queer organizations recommend different courses?"

Now, this isn't new to the left, but it happens with such pervasiveness and force because of social media that it has changed how whole social systems operate. I feel like my personal political life* is not only more stymied and unpleasant than it used to be but that it is intellectually poorer.

The other key part is that it's very clear, when you actually meet people and are physically present with them, that there isn't this consensus that appears on the internet. I feel like my political life is governed by something that doesn't even exist.

*As distinct from my life as a distant participant/reader - being informed about Black Lives Matter events so that I can go on a march or to a talk, for instance, is fantastic; reading about others' experiences is fantastic. I'm thinking of political work that involves my active participation.
posted by Frowner at 10:06 AM on January 6, 2017 [36 favorites]


Frowner Basically, when people get criticism in my activist community, many people just shut down completely because the criticism can be so pervasive, sudden and unstoppable.

And criticism is so much easier now. Used to be you had to talk to the person face-to-face, or call. Now, you can tweet or Facebook your criticism from the can, and your criticism is rewarded with people seeing it, and responding in kind, faving and RTing, and spawning more and more. No wonder people shut down.
posted by SansPoint at 10:14 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think the deepest insight in the piece is that "trust your gut and do your own research" has proven to be a highly fragile strategy, very susceptible to both Dunning–Kruger effects (you don't know enough to choose between opinions) and preconceived answers. Self-driven "research" is quite typically awful because the average person only looks at the top page of an idiosyncratic search term on a single search engine (the Google effect), and judgement of those results is impaired by both unknown incompetence and preexisting biases.

That vulnerability, that false confidence, has allowed the growth of not political "fake news" but the careers of thousands of iconoclasts and "free thinkers" from medical quackery like MacCarthy on vaccines to climate denialists to sovereign citizens.
posted by bonehead at 10:15 AM on January 6, 2017 [7 favorites]


Without further training on how to use literary theory, and when, having this tool is dangerous, because it allows you to rewrite narritives and factual information with no recourse. It gets to the point where people can't even agree on what words mean, and when you can't even have a discussion without some form of common, agreed upon definitions of words, you can't have a discussion, period.

I'm sure I'm overreaching as well, and I look forward to someone putting me in my place a bit. But when I see people redefining "Diversity" as "White Genocide", I have to scream (internally, usually) WORDS HAVE MEANINGS, DAMN IT. But words only mean what we choose them to mean.


Honestly, I think this has a lot less to do with poorly-taught literary theory - which probably got forgotten entirely by millions the minute they passed whatever classes they had it in - and far more to do with a half-century + of conservative politicians and pundits and media outlets intentionally outright lying and lying by omission and coopting the language and concepts of the civil rights movements(s) as a form of special pleading. Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh don't give two shits about a vaguely-remembered theory from Senior English - well, OK, O'Reilly might - and neither do their fans. But when you spend hours a day listening to someone tell you that "people on welfare are stealing your tax money no matter what the Democrats claim with their facts and figures", then no surprise that you become habituated to the idea that word meanings are malleable and personal.

IOW, the fault lies less with the audience not understanding that literary theory only applies in certain contexts and far more with people pushing an agenda who have intentionally mis-applied literary theory.
posted by soundguy99 at 10:16 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


Study It Out!
posted by lazycomputerkids at 10:18 AM on January 6, 2017


So the other thing that happens, in my activist circles, is that relations between actual people who know each other are strongly affected by comments from people who are not local and/or don't know the people or project in question. For instance, when an event was canceled, the actual people who had planned to run the event were really upset, and some people showed up in the cold not realizing that it had been canceled. The relationships among those people were substantially worsened so that the group could avoid having its relations with the outside world worsened - over a materially false statement that could not be corrected.

It's like we're all ruled by ghosts.
posted by Frowner at 10:19 AM on January 6, 2017 [11 favorites]


soundguy99 IOW, the fault lies less with the audience not understanding that literary theory only applies in certain contexts and far more with people pushing an agenda who have intentionally mis-applied literary theory.

Problem is, the tactics of the agenda-pushers trickle down into the Internet meme squads. Even if they learned it from the agenda-pushers, the agenda-pushers learned it from the academics.
posted by SansPoint at 10:24 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Ah, yes, clearly that's the lesson to be drawn from this. The election of a 70-year-old relic of the 1980s pushing a conspiracist worldview straight out of the 1950s is the fault of young people's media literacy.

And it's not like I don't think there's a lot to be done as far as educating everybody in how to absorb and interpret information. But the idea that people 30+ (like myself) are in some position to talk down to the young-uns about this before they go watch another fucking Star Wars movie is insane.
posted by otio at 10:25 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


I have a four-year-old who can use both Android and iOS devices and I want to pull my hair out whenever someone notices and starts oohing and ahhing about kids these days etc etc etc... It's not kids these days, it's UI designers these days. He's four. It's just another toy to him, and it will remain just another toy unless someone (me probably) actually teaches him, explicitly, about how computers work, what the internet is, how networking works, etc.... The fact that he can touch a thing and swipe a thing means nothing.

My favorite counter to that is to show them who else knows how to do that.

But that bearded dragon there also gave some crummy flashlight app access to her contacts and call data.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:27 AM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]


But this post-modern literary analysis stuff is taught, often poorly, in English classes under the general education requirements needed for most college degrees. Without further training on how to use literary theory, and when, having this tool is dangerous, because it allows you to rewrite narritives and factual information with no recourse

I think it's not just literary theory but all kinds of theory that are poorly-taught and then seep out into popular culture and the vernacular where both the theory and the language used to describe it undergo profound transformation. Ultimately theory-speak becomes just another tool to win arguments with strangers over social media, and you end up with the alt-right using the same identity politics language and arguments the left was using in the 90s.

Because liberalism as an ideology includes the idea that, with the right education and critical thinking, one can step outside ideology, liberalism often fails to see itself operating as an ideology and therefore when, like all ideologies, it ultimately fails to predict what happens in nature, liberals freak out and think the world is ending, when all that's really happening is that their particular ideology doesn't work well under certain circumstances.

One of those is when liberalism's go-to rhetoric is employed by its opponents to ends opposed to its goals. If both sides in an argument claim to be an oppressed minority or the victims of racism, liberals can't rely on their go-to playbook in arguments and they don't have a decent fallback argument, so they're now very worried.

Thing is, if you come up with a successful argument, your opponent will eventually adopt it. If you have an opponent like Trump/the GOP, who don't even care how obvious their double standards are, that compounds the problem and the old liberal idea that we can all discuss this and reach agreement on a decent compromise falls apart - that was Obama's big miscalculation - there is no "reaching across the aisle" any more, not when there's no agreement because the same words and phrases mean opposite things to the conversing parties.

Facts have always been decided on and mediated through ideology. As a nation we used to share a basic liberal ideology about how facts get made and who has the authority to make them, but as capitalist interests have infiltrated the fact-making institutions (news media, universities) and focused on profit over civic duty, we no longer agree on what makes a fact a fact and conversation becomes impossible.
posted by eustacescrubb at 10:28 AM on January 6, 2017 [7 favorites]


Frowner: I have to wonder if the same crap goes down in Conservative activist spaces?
posted by SansPoint at 10:28 AM on January 6, 2017


I never thought the critical theory I was taught in art school (sorry STEM readers!) would be relevant to a presidential election or understanding the future of the US.

I know. It's a weird feeling, frankly, that my general expertise as a 'cultural creative' has suddenly become so practically salient. As always, it's not either/or: the STEM folks created the technologies of our media (from the printing press forward, really) but we also need to understand how wide use of those tools affects us, individually and collectively. For a while now, science claimed primacy there, too, but hyperreality is a state of consciousness, of perceptual being, rather than material reality--and so the experts who work in the fields of (broadly speaking) human experience and expression kind of unexpectedly have skill sets that are much more practically important. We need to realize that, and talk about all this a lot more. Though what is happening is, fundamentally, nebulous and subjective and experiential, it has obvious and dangerous practical, material outcomes. If we don't understand the disease, we'll just continue playing whack-a-mole with symptoms.

I think there is a _lot_ of demand for objective truth, but no sense of how to get it, or even what objectivity is. Part of this, I suspect, stems from the mis-application of post-modernist theory outside of literature and art, but also from a general shift in media.

Totally agree, I see this all over the place, as well. I've come to think of it as a symptom of hyperreality, that we're sensing that we don't know enough, in some way. What's particularly insidious about what we've done to ourselves is that our brains only know the world through mediation in the first place: as a fetus even, the nascent brain grows inside a skull and never physically touches the world in which it exists; within each body, the brain is physically isolated by the blood-brain barrier so that the body doesn't try to kill the brain (immune response would identify the brain as invader), and our brains only know the world outside of it by the sensory input our body delivers (very on-point, pithy explanation of this here).

So if our brain--which is where at least the majority of what we experience as 'ourselves' occurs--only knows the world through physical, sensory mediation in the first place, it must be profoundly confusing to steep it in an additional layer of mediated reality that is technological. I think that this desire for objective truth is part and parcel of widespread rates of anxiety and depression, and so on, and all are a result of our brains being removed from direct experience by an additional layer; we evolved to sustain meta-consciousness, but it's looking like meta-meta-consciousness is not sustainable. As our material wealth has soared (at least, where I'm from), our existential wealth has seemed to diminish, and this phenomenon has been exhaustively examined from all sorts of angles and perspectives, but nearly all were either external or material. I think what's wrong is how we experience the world, and that balance needs to be shifted with new priority placed on unmediated experience and knowledge. I know that I am looking for more time for this in my daily life, and it is making a difference.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:31 AM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]


People believe in information that confirms their priors. In fact, if you present them with data that contradicts their beliefs, they will double down on their beliefs rather than integrate the new knowledge into their understanding.

Yes, and it's so much more infuriating when it comes from your ideological compatriots. When someone gets to talking about 'something I read or maybe heard this one time' like it's a proven fact, they're often asked to back it up with a source for their claim. A terrifying large percentage of the time, they will unironically respond with a link to, like, an unsourced anonymous Tumblr post (lots of notes = reliable! must be true!), a post on a proudly left-leaning website that links back to that Tumblr post (agrees with me = reliable! must be true!), or a pseudonymous Wordpress site that's been dormant since 2008 (uses academic language = reliable! must be true!). And instead of being like "wtf? that's not a reliable source" tons of other liberals will trip all over themselves to accept it as true, because they already believed the lie in the first place, and it's easier to just keep on believing it than it is to have to examine your biases. If you're like, "hey, that post on BestLeftWingNewsSource.net has actually been debunked" instead of "oh, really? can you send me those sources?" you'll get some kind of variation on, "whatever, that's what the REPUBLICANS want you to believe!" And again, the crowd goes wild.

Liberals are quite happy to make shit up to justify our own beliefs, and it does us no favors to insist that the debunking of a D-friendly story is probably a right-wing conspiracy while the debunking of an R-friendly story is just a much-needed truth bomb. Still, when the people I know riff on "fake news," they tend to do so from the perspective that progressives would never bend the truth in order to solidify their perception of their own unequivocal righteousness, because reality is, as we love to insist, always on our side.

Unfortunately, when it isn't, when a statistic turns out to be exaggerated in service to The Cause or a much-touted progressive idea turns out to be BS, there are a whole lot of people who are ready, willing, and able to continue to ignore the facts in favor of building a social media narrative in support of their more convenient, less challenging version of the truth. And I just don't think "but our conjecture is more ideologically pure than theirs" is a solid enough argument to justify that kind of behavior.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 10:34 AM on January 6, 2017 [8 favorites]


eustacescrubb: But where else is there to go? I don't want to sound all end-of-history, but it feels like we're out of rhetorical ideas. So much of the debate for the last decade and a half, if not longer, has been the same vicious circling around the same arguments. It only accelerates as social media makes co-opting the playbooks and terminology easier to do.
posted by SansPoint at 10:34 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Frowner: I have to wonder if the same crap goes down in Conservative activist spaces?

I tend to think that the underlying perception that everyone else is ideologically united transcends politics but is then enacted in different ways.
posted by Frowner at 10:35 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Problem is, the tactics of the agenda-pushers trickle down into the Internet meme squads. Even if they learned it from the agenda-pushers, the agenda-pushers learned it from the academics.

That doesn't matter. If Harold Bloom could work his will and wipe Derrida and Lacan from the world's memory, if we could all agree that there was such a thing as true and such a thing as good, we would still disagree about which side spoke truth, which truths were good, would still steal the most effective argumentative tactics from our enemies' rhetoric, still learn to code switch in order to make our voices heard among the elite if we wished to work our will in the halls of power. There was never any golden age. We cannot merely construct a really, really good syllabus (or sermon) and shove it down the people's throats and watch the scales fall from their eyes. People don't believe different things out of mere ignorance. The believe different things because they are different, have different wants, different needs, different values.
posted by Diablevert at 10:36 AM on January 6, 2017 [8 favorites]


Distinguishing between fake news that I instinctively disagree with and essays based entirely on anecdote and personal intuition that I instinctively agree with is pretty hard to defend.

"Show us the data," seems like the appropriate response to any article that this many bold and unsubstantiated claims about what people believe. All the more so in an article related to the nature of truth and our ability to interpret it. The questions, though, are interesting.
posted by eotvos at 10:38 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Frowner: I have to wonder if the same crap goes down in Conservative activist spaces?

Butting in, but evidence seems to indicate that there is a much lower ideological purity barrier in conservative activist spaces, which may be why these movements have been so successful. So there may be much less incentive in these spaces to cause this brand of trouble.
posted by soren_lorensen at 10:39 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


But the idea that people 30+ (like myself) are in some position to talk down to the young-uns about this before they go watch another fucking Star Wars movie is insane.

For my part, my point is much larger than the FPP piece--I think all of us, everyone alive today, suffers from this.

far more to do with a half-century + of conservative politicians and pundits and media outlets intentionally outright lying and lying by omission and coopting the language and concepts of the civil rights movements(s) as a form of special pleading.

As before, I think we have to zoom out a bit to understand what's happening. I don't want to give (e.g.) Lee Atwater too much credit here, I think the real culprit (to point to a person) would be Edward Bernays. It was he who first successfully weaponized scientific and psychological insights of the early 20th century into very effective war-time propaganda, which he then turned into "public relations" post-war. We are all victims of that weapon, and it's the fundamental reason that words don't mean anything anymore. Politicians and various media flaks have just been savvy opportunists since--what's now urgent is that the consequences of this in the political sphere are Donald Trump. (In the, say, personal hygiene sphere, the consequences are just that I'm angsty over my choice of toothpaste.)
posted by LooseFilter at 10:42 AM on January 6, 2017 [10 favorites]


But where else is there to go? I don't want to sound all end-of-history, but it feels like we're out of rhetorical ideas.

Well you're probably right - we (liberals and traditional leftists and conservatives) ARE out of ideas. But that doesn't mean someone else doesn't have new ones. We may be headed toward a new medievalism, a period of time where the old models get discarded and new ones tried on until one that works comes along. If we want the new one that gets adopted to give the most people the most freedom and opportunity then we need to do whatever we can to safeguard and care for freedom. That's a multi-front struggle - not just against Trumpists and their ilk but also against corporate takeover of everyday American life. If people have general freedom of thought and expression, freedom over their own bodies, and freedom from corporate tyranny, then no matter how messy or tribal things get, it's more likely new ways of organizing and talking will emerge that work better than the ones we have now.

So instead of arguing as old-school liberalism does, that we should all have freedom of speech and privacy and bodily autonomy and equal opportunity because we have endowed "rights," we should own the fact that "rights" are an agreement and we made that agreement because it ensures that most people have decent lives most of the time, and also business and economies usually perform better under such circumstances. Or something along those lines.
posted by eustacescrubb at 10:45 AM on January 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


Vance Packard's Hidden Persuaders

My devotion to television is the only way I can account for the disillusion I suffered at the hands of Packard’s book. Packard had tried to warn Americans of a new mutation in advertising. Powerful admen were working to tap the irrational in the consumer mind, using the applied psychology and sociology supported by the government during World War II.

posted by infini at 10:49 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Butting in, but evidence seems to indicate that there is a much lower ideological purity barrier in conservative activist spaces, which may be why these movements have been so successful.

This might be six of one vs. half a dozen of the other, but my personal read is that conservative activist spaces don't have a lower ideological purity barrier so much as they're profoundly more tolerant of hypocrisy of both the personal and political varieties.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:56 AM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


I've had an ongoing argument with my husband about Wikipedia, in which he says it's useless because it's all unverified and can be written by anyone, and I point out that (1) that's everything on the internet and (2) it doesn't matter if it's unverified; it's a great place to get starting information, and use that to go look for verifications/additional details.

He is unconvinced. Shrug. Both the daughters, web citizens from the time they could click a mouse, are happy to consider Wikipedia a starting place for research, so I'm content with that.

I had noticed, when I attended online classes, that the teachers were all very anti-Wikipedia, although they were happy to accept news and other articles from anywhere else on the web. (I mean. Maybe they didn't know those were personal blogs I was quoting, because the cite has the same structure as a newspaper: Lastname Firstname, article title, publication title, date. It's only when the poster's name was something like DragonFix235 or Orang Utanous that they'd notice... so I looked for blogs with serious-sounding author names.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:58 AM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]


Can anyone speak to whether the exploitation of the hyper reality problem manifesting in the real/political sphere is an English language internet problem (see Brexit and it's problems)?
posted by infini at 11:02 AM on January 6, 2017


Problem is, the tactics of the agenda-pushers trickle down into the Internet meme squads. Even if they learned it from the agenda-pushers, the agenda-pushers learned it from the academics.

Sure, but that's not the fault of literary theory itself nor of poor teaching. Lying has been around much longer than literary theory, and the fact that the current batch of liars has figured out a new method to justify their lies doesn't change much of anything.

I dunno, maybe I'm misunderstanding your point - to me it read like your postulate was that the existence and teaching (especially poor teaching) of literary theory has resulted in a populace predisposed to think that there's no such thing as truth. Which seems to me an unduly heavy burden to place on a method of interpreting literature. Whereas my point was that at least some of the populace will be susceptible to propaganda whether they know anything about literary theory at all.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:05 AM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


infini: The symptoms we're seeing from it are happening in other Western nations, so likely it isn't just an English internet problem, or at least isolated to first and second world nations. (See, for example, Marie Le Pen)
posted by SansPoint at 11:05 AM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


This might be six of one vs. half a dozen of the other, but my personal read is that conservative activist spaces don't have a lower ideological purity barrier so much as they're profoundly more tolerant of hypocrisy of both the personal and political varieties.

Well but also read Twitter fights between Black Lives Matter liberals and economic leftist liberals - liberals, ironically, seem to often place ideological purity above coalition-building. I keep thinking of the bit in Monty Python's Life Of Brian where the Campaign For Free Galilee and People's Front For Judea both concoct the same plan to kidnap Pilate's wife...
posted by eustacescrubb at 11:06 AM on January 6, 2017 [6 favorites]


eustacescrubb: SPLITTER!
posted by SansPoint at 11:08 AM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


at least isolated to first and second world nations

hmmm, this might explain the cognitive dissonance experienced by those who tend to immerse themselves daily in the third world and developing country news. My African timeline, for instance, has very little illusions, those tend to be manifested by the diaspora
posted by infini at 11:18 AM on January 6, 2017


It will take more than generation for incomes to rise and business models to change before the kind of ubiquitous screen worship can take place
posted by infini at 11:19 AM on January 6, 2017


Actually, not to be facetious, but Americans' enthusiastic embrace of the private automobile and the "freedom" it offered was, to a great degree, reaction against the claustrophobic, awful nature of life in cities, which was of course the result of industrialization.

This sounds exactly like the marketing we get to this day about automobiles. There are so many stories regarding the coercion required to make the auto palatable in the early days. Automobiles are an atomizing force, and there's something to the notion that precedents leading to the current crisis are a long time coming.

Further, because the assumptions that the net is what it is naturally or something, there is nothing inevitable about how the net gets organized. It's done with algorithms and AI that is unable to do any kind of qualitative analysis. And no, statistics will never be a basis for qualitative analysis.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 11:24 AM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


soundguy99 I dunno, maybe I'm misunderstanding your point - to me it read like your postulate was that the existence and teaching (especially poor teaching) of literary theory has resulted in a populace predisposed to think that there's no such thing as truth. Which seems to me an unduly heavy burden to place on a method of interpreting literature. Whereas my point was that at least some of the populace will be susceptible to propaganda whether they know anything about literary theory at all.

Not so much the populace, as much as the various political leaders and their mouthpieces, along with a whole host of young, tech-savvy types who either dominate the *chan boards and fuck up the discourse further, or run the tech companies that facilitate that disruption.
posted by SansPoint at 11:25 AM on January 6, 2017


Really, I swear the net is making my writing more horrible. Something about hot-takes, grumble, grumble
posted by Strange_Robinson at 11:41 AM on January 6, 2017


My parents are Objectivists. I was raised with the notion that it's *spit* liberals (and exclusively liberals though maybe with some lip service also to religious fundamentalists) who are all namby-pamby post-modern literary theory hoo-ha over-emotional irrational post-truth.

I was taught to push back mightily against post-modernism. I'm really kind of breaking out in hives at the notion that a bunch of fundamentally conservative and conservatish normie kids went to college and not only accepted post-modernism as a media-response theory but so swallowed it whole that they started applying it everywhere else too. And even more so that a bunch of leaders of the conservative movement decided to just go ahead and use this thing that they loathe for their own purposes. Is... is that what folks are theorizing? Correct me if I'm wrong about that.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:05 PM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]


Is... is that what folks are theorizing?

Kinda takes your breath away, doesn't it?
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:07 PM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think this is way more to do with what happens when human brains receive more information than they can process than some sort of volitional action of a cabal of conservatives who decided to use post-modernism as a weapon.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:12 PM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


soren_lorensen: More, or less, yes, that is what I am theorizing. Once someone realized how useful and powerful of a tool it is to use post-modernist theory to create a separate reality, why wouldn't they embrace it, as long as it works for their ends?
posted by SansPoint at 12:22 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


That just seems really implausible in an Occam's Razor kind of way, but what do I know.
posted by soren_lorensen at 12:30 PM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


the teachers were all very anti-Wikipedia

As an older (51) teacher, I believe that this results from a pre-online time (that will still be imprinted on many of us, and we oldster teachers will, via Univ Ed faculties, have passed this bias along to many still active teachers) when referring to any encyclopedia as a critical reference was taboo. Sure you could go there to learn something, but heaven forfend that you cite it as a source - that was weak and uncritical research, nevermind whether the info was materially correct or not.

So every year I'm still telling gr 9s that Wikipedia is perhaps the most reliable and accurate place to start to learn about something, and they're telling me that this is not what their elem. and jr. high teachers have told them, and they wonder what's wrong with me that I don't know better.

Which worries the hell out of me when I see 4 year olds (or bearded dragons) being encouraged to use devices for entertainment by adults - devices that should be seen first as powerful resources for information. If everything's a plaything, well then who's to gainsay what I choose to play, or how I choose to play it?
posted by kneecapped at 12:32 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


kneecapped: At some point in college, I was told Wikipedia isn't a good source, but it's a good place to start looking for sources, via the references that should be at the bottom of each article.

I must have gotten lucky in my assignment of professor in that class.
posted by SansPoint at 12:39 PM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


Yeah, it feels like different Wikipedia criticisms got all lumped together into just "Wikipedia bad!"

One criticism of "anyone can edit it" probably comes from comparing to encyclopedias. Encyclopaedia Britannica has a central authority that is accountable for whether it's publishing accurate information. Replacing that central authority with crowd-sourcing is going to make some people very suspicious.

Another is the idea of it not being a good source, that you shouldn't cite it directly. But that has nothing to do with whether it's accurate, but that you're not learning the skills related to finding sources. It's more akin to not using a calculator on an arithmetic assignment.
posted by RobotHero at 12:52 PM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


SansPoint: I must have gotten lucky in my assignment of professor in that class.

Of course I don't have any hard data supporting whether or not this is happening in Ed faculties, but in my experience the number of younger-than-me teachers who distrust Wikipedia, and don't seem to understand how it works, is unsettling.
posted by kneecapped at 12:54 PM on January 6, 2017


I'm really kind of breaking out in hives at the notion that a bunch of fundamentally conservative and conservatish normie kids went to college and not only accepted post-modernism as a media-response theory but so swallowed it whole that they started applying it everywhere else too.

I mean, what group of people are you talking about here? The "rank and file" conservatives or the conservative "elite" that sets the terms of the discourse? Because I can definitely see the latter doing exactly this and either absorbing or ignoring the cognitive dissonance. The former likely only know post-modernism as a boogeyman rather than an actual school of critical theory with understandable tenets and thus have no reason to recognise it when employed against them by their own people.

And it's frankly the same for leftists. I doubt most Democratic voters could give you a coherent definition of post-modernism either.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:03 PM on January 6, 2017 [4 favorites]


I suppose another way questions of Wikipedia's accuracy can get lumped in with academic refusal of an encyclopedia as a source, is when someone's all, "But why do I hafta find another source?" it's going to be tempting to be all, "Well, how do you know it's accurate? Anyone can edit Wikipedia after all. You need to be able to independently verify that their facts are correct." But then their takeaway isn't the value of independent verification, but that Wikipedia is singularly untrustworthy.
posted by RobotHero at 1:58 PM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm just glad that I gained my own media literacy and critical thinking skills from the pages of Mad Magazine when I was young. And I am not trying to be funny here. It's true. From Mad I learned to look at things not at the first level of what does it say, but up a few levels of why is it saying it that way, who is saying it, and why do they want me to hear the message. I see ads and my first thought is who's attention are they trying to get? I automatically meta almost everything.

A lot of the arguments here seem to imply that with applied reason we can see what's true and what isn't. But how many of us have the reasoning skills and the prerequisite knowledge required to adequately use those skills when faced with a barrage of "information" from all sides?

STEM does not teach critical thinking skills. According to a bunch of studies of student performance in STEM courses, the students aren't really taught to think. In a lot of cases, STEM classes are taught via lecture with the expert spouting out facts that the students merely copy down. I worked in a dental school where the critical thinking course came at the end of the curriculum and not at the beginning.

I don't have much faith in people having the ability to really think for themselves. The "wisdom of the crowds" is a very frightening idea for me. Education in general has not provided the skills needed to deal with reality. Our economy tries to breed mindless consumers. And politics of any sort is riddled with hypocrisy. I would like to see the world in a better way but the world keeps screwing up.

Just my two cents...
posted by njohnson23 at 2:35 PM on January 6, 2017 [6 favorites]


Frowner: So the other thing that happens, in my activist circles, is that relations between actual people who know each other are strongly affected by comments from people who are not local and/or don't know the people or project in question.

Another reason why it's super disturbing to have had so much activism move to commercial platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc. I'm not saying that networks developed in person aren't susceptible to disinformation, but whoa, is it now easy to get folks tripping about something that is demonstrably false in order to disrupt activism with a huge, often mostly anonymous mob*. All the while, we get further and further from the skills needed to organize en masse without the mediation of online, commercial platforms.

*A mob which may be composed of bots that are intended to further spread misinformation.
posted by Excommunicated Cardinal at 2:45 PM on January 6, 2017 [3 favorites]


My daughter came home from grade school with an assignment that she was supposed to research online. It was supposed to be an introduction to such things. I was perplexed when she told me that the teacher had told them not to use Google. This was when the "Wikipedia bad" tide was high. After some thought, I think the teacher had either had a brain fart and replaced Wiki with Google, or really was completely clueless. This was not a huge surprise; I had already seen, some years earlier, a new IT director hired by that school system. Her first act was to replace all the slightly-dated Macs with new Windows machines. A big missed opportunity to promote cross-platform computer literacy.

The article notes that trust in doctors is declining. My personal experience makes that unsurprising, as well. When doctors and hospitals commonly base their care decisions on their own well-being, rather than their patients', it's inevitable that they will lose esteem. Likewise for news outlets. I remember when the TV networks maintained a sharp divide between their news programs and their entertainment divisions. Those days are long gone. Newspapers are also, more than ever, corporate organs, devoted to maintaining reader interest while pushing the corporate view of reality. When those corporate entities encounter organized campaigns of lying from the Republican Party, with limp opposition from Democrats, they are going to pass them on uncritically.

Given the seeming ineptitude of schools to teach how to find accurate information, it's hard to see any general improvement in the future.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:33 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


I gotta go back to the hyper-reality idea. I love it, but here's the big flaw I keep seeing, and it reveals, I think, an all to often blind spot with way too many professional types. It's a first world problem, a symptom of wealth so to speak. I'd imagine the effect is more pronounced the more rarified the air. The destitute get the raw experience of everything, guaranteed.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 3:37 PM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Strange_Robinson: Don't forget that the standard of living in the US is pretty dang high compared to a lot of the world. As infini mentioned upthread, the third-world does have their own, different worries.
posted by SansPoint at 3:50 PM on January 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


But when I see people redefining "Diversity" as "White Genocide"

I really, really don't think you can lay the blame for this at the feet of the tiny sliver of people being taught postmodernism in the falling number of humanities degrees across the world.

Postmodern theories are by and large descriptive, not prescriptive - they're an interpretative lens to apply to modern texts, not a handbook for communications and culture jamming. Furthermore, right wingers general associate postmodernism with the erosion of traditional values; this is not something that Steve Bannon is rubbing his hands in glee about: "We'll drop some Foucalt on Breitbart this week - a kinky, gay, french philosopher - they are gonna eat it up!"

The hyper-real existed before Baudrillard described it, I guess is what I'm saying.
posted by smoke at 4:44 PM on January 6, 2017 [6 favorites]


The hyper-real existed before Baudrillard described it, I guess is what I'm saying.

Actually, that's an extremely salient point. It doesn't really matter whether Bannon curls up by the fireplace with a copy of Simulacra and Simulation if it accurately describes the information landscape that enables him to do his dirty work.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:06 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


smoke said it before I could: all of (at least, my own) hyperreality-diagnosing is descriptive, not prescriptive. We are acting the ways we are because it is what we know intuitively from the perceptual reality we have steeped ourselves in--this is the danger, that we've done it intuitively rather than calculatingly.

If some people are cynically applying post-modern critical media theory or whatever, they might have a sense of limits or boundaries or such. Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner just knows what works, they very likely don't understand why. That's what makes them especially dangerous.
posted by LooseFilter at 5:12 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


There's a nostalgia in this piece that is inherently conservative and bothers me.

There has never been a period of Adequate Media Literacy in US History. For much of our history, media was owned and operated by political actors as a method to educate citizens and curry favor for change. It quickly distanced itself from government itself, since by definition, the people in power don't need to convince people for change. But the political roots never fully disappeared.

It slowly came to encompass more and more stories to expand readership. If you included classifieds, more people would find the paper useful. Political writing would evolve from telling into showing. This isn't just my treatise on poor working conditions, these are the stories of people suffering poor working conditions.

And it's a powerful shift. But it's one that quickly veered to storytelling and muckraking for profit, dispensing with the political ends.

Our golden age of 'Media Literacy' wasn't actually that literate. It was just well curated by benevolent oligarchs. And sure, it was nice that a handful of wealthy elites decided the world needed 'objective news'. But like most charitable endeavors of the elite, it's still hella problematic. There is plenty of history Cronkite didn't bring us. And any decision of what is and isn't newsworthy is inherently political since it's based on deciding what society should know.

For the first time in our history, we are finally able to curate our news feed based on what we think is important, along with the responsibility of deciding what's true. And we suck at it. But I think it's important to realize the average news consumer has never been good at this. They just consumed news with training wheels, deferring the question of importance or accuracy to the elite. (And sure, there were skeptics. But they were limited to primary sources about as reliable as we have now.)
posted by politikitty at 6:15 PM on January 6, 2017 [7 favorites]


And even more so that a bunch of leaders of the conservative movement decided to just go ahead and use this thing that they loathe for their own purposes. 

The traditional answer here is Leo Strauss via Irving Kristol, but I don't know enough to follow it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 6:53 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Hyper-reality will not touch the desitute the way it will the coddled. That there are things making the better off sick in a way you won't find further down the class structure.

Now, I'm not trying to claim destitution is automatically virtuous or anything like that. It's more that much could be learned in an honest contrasting. That the solution might be better found in the contrasting rather than the professional classes tendency to stare lovingly at itself in the mirror.

I think of all those touching murder ballads, and the humanity of the action conveyed, as contrasted with the platonic ideals of classical music. Or the beauty of a tree in contrast to the suspension bridge. Or more close to home myself, the simple act of sitting and breathing where ever I am as opposed to the resort-like retreats your Orange County types attend.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 7:13 PM on January 6, 2017


Looking a little closer I see that infini did indeed hit the point.

I'll show my working class roots here, but what the hell. I know there are people all around the world, but they are still just images on a screen to this not well traveled dude. Whereas I can go downtown no problem and find the addicts and whores, folks for whom the hyper-real would sound positively absurd. Almost like since the well-off have no problems, they have to create them. Or maybe troubles in life are a fixed quantity and there's no buying yourself out of that.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 7:39 PM on January 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


That brings us back to the point I was clumsily trying to make with my cryptic single sentence comment somewhere up top - that the erroneous synthesis of user behaviour, as observed by a wellpaid PhD, will handicap the framing of narrative.

An example by contrasting disparity, like Strange_Robinson does above, would be to base an entire narrative on a remotely observed little understood version of the "daily life of the poor"; who in turn when faced by this, would be like WTF, which planet are you on?

Some things I came across today that still don't fit into any coherent commentary so I'll just put them down in an ad hoc manner.

German media and politicians have warned against an election-year spike in fake news after the rightwing website Breitbart claimed a mob chanting “Allahu Akbar” had set fire to a church in the city of Dortmund on New Year’s Eve.

German firms including BMW pull advertising from Breitbart
“These are very popular sites, with strong networks on social media,” Mercier said. “It’s a crowded field. I’m not sure how far Breitbart has done its market research. There is clearly an ideological opportunity, but I’m not convinced there’s a media opportunity.”

Up until now, it had always seemed to me that Western media, especially the big brands, even if they were on opposite sides of their own table, still held a certain narrative structure together that promoted a jointly held worldview. It is that fabric that I see falling apart.

My own two cents on the theorizing discussed above is that it may or may not have anything to do with postmodern theory per se, at the implementation end. There might have been an element of such deep thought at the original formulation end, but applied theory rarely requires understanding of the meta behind it.

My own hunch is that this was the perfect bubble created for a consumption driven sales and marketing culture, complete with all the data anyone would ever want on diaper use, pregnant Target customers, and the possibility of turning a corner on 5th Avenue thus receiving a coupon off for the nearest restaurant. Vance Packard wrote out how the lessons from behaviourial science, user research, judge and nudge labs, and whatnot were used in the productivity boom of the postwar era to speed up the consumption cycle.

It's an ideal Matrix sitting there for whoever shall find. And what is there to stop those from outside of the continent from using it, now that it's all gone online and interconnected, unlike previously?

My hunch is that it's vulnerabilities are being exploited, and one cannot say, yet, if the creators of their own hyperreality comm framework are able to discern this since they are by virtue of their origins also as immersed in it? The OP being an example of the academics who study the system.
posted by infini at 1:38 AM on January 7, 2017 [6 favorites]


An 89 year old will notice it

Perry’s hypothesis for the disconnect is that much of the population, especially that rising portion with no clear memories of the first Cold War, is suffering from a deficit of comprehension.
posted by infini at 3:42 AM on January 7, 2017


Old people went for Trump in much higher numbers than young people. I think cognitive decline and internet media illiteracy by the boomers is a much more likely factor.

Academic postmodernism has nothing to do with this. The rise of machine generated (and human generated fake news factories plus existing adveryising frameworks allow you to effectively gauge headline outage generation via click metrics and forwards. So you can conduct mass political A/b testing and create the most viral bullshit possible. This hits the least savvy consumers -- surprise, the elderly.
posted by benzenedream at 4:02 PM on January 7, 2017 [1 favorite]


I'll stand up for post-modern literary theory, well, in theory anyway, as that study is designed to, and in implementation can assist an audience member is parsing complex webs of "text" if used as an aid in understanding the "text" being examined rather than the other way around, of using the text as a way to "prove the theory" which may be the more common use, both in Universities and outside them. Selective engagement with presented information can allow the audience to pick and choose those pieces which best fit the way they want to understand the situation or object, choosing one's own areas of emphasis. This won't do, as we, I hope, clearly see. So many of the beliefs that became a part of the debates leading up to the resent elections can be seen as coming from a questionable premise or root which is then used as a basis for determining the validity of all later assessments.

So, for example, the BLM movement and their call of "Black Lives Matter" is meant roughly speaking, as a demand for affirmation of worth from those who don't see black lives being treated as of equal worth in US society. Those listening to the message though may not hear that. Instead many seem to hear a claim of exclusivity, of additional value, where Black lives matter "more" than those of the police and, by extension, them. They rejoined the demand with their own of "All Lives Matter", which was entirely predictable, and, of course, missing the point entirely as well. Yet it is an undeniable argument from a moral perspective, and only fails because it does so miss the purpose of the BLM demand and the perspective that engendered it.

Anyone claiming all lives matter, is, of course, essentially in agreement with black lives matter, as black lives are certainly a part of all lives. So, by rights, the all lives matter folks should be marching with the BLM as their alleged values align, no one's life should be wasted or seen as not mattering. Only by denying that could the claim of all be used as a counter for BLM unless the belief was that BLM is asking for something greater, in this case likely a denial of other lives mattering. That mistaken initial belief, coming from a long history of racism and white blindness to others shapes how all other information revolving around BLM will be heard and makes people who hold those beliefs more susceptible to information that rewards their prejudice.

This needn't be, and usually isn't, false information, but shaped info, where some factual truth is held out and a narrative shaped around that adheres to the worldview of those who accept it. This is true on the left as well as the right, even if in different measures and around different subjects. One need only read any of the election threads to see how beliefs on, say, the CIA, Sanders, Clinton, Russia, or any number of other general concepts inform the way later information is perceived and shaped into a fitting narrative to maintain the root belief.

Actual facts do come into play here to of course, where acceptance or rejection of some narratives hinge on the facts involved, to whatever level one can discern them. Still though, below much of that there is the element of trust in who is reporting the facts and how they are presented. Most of us here, I believe, share a belief that "global warming" is real, is the result of human actions, and needs to be addressed. In this most of us accept the claims of scientists and others who've studied the situation, done the work to test the beliefs, and reported it for the rest of us to see and study, if we need, on our own. Most of us don't or aren't easily able to actually perform those studies and duplicate the information, so we instead rely on it being reported by people we trust in a broad sense, and in ways that "show the work" so to speak, so others can test the claims. In this then there is something like a stacked set of proofs we are relying on to say climate change is real even though we ourselves can't verify it directly.

If, though, one tears out that root of trust in this involved or stacked process, then the whole set of beliefs can be altered. Substituting trust to a different group making contrary claims based on other criteria for acceptance can still maintain some broad sense in a way, where previous claims by this group may have been seen as matching experience of those listening do that trust can then be transferred to some new area. It's the listeners version of "engineer's disease" at it more extreme examples, which nonetheless does carry a kind of logic to it, even if its a faulty one factually.

In essence, these are narrative problems more than factual problems, even when facts may be wrong, as they are coming from personal histories of often long time inculcated values surrounding who "we" are and how things work. It would be a good step to get people to rely on better sources, but even seeing "better" is sometimes a difficult sell due to how our self-perception shapes everything else we observe at some levels.

Getting people to rely on better sources of information then often also requires them to change their frame of reference, to learn to see from outside their own perspective yet not simply accept that imposed by others as well. Since "reporting" almost intrinsically involves creating or shaping a narrative for the audience, in anything but simple lists of facts, this means learning to "read" as a mix of belief and disbelief, to simultaneously accept and reject information, or more positively to maintain a state of agnosticism for all information that one cannot personally verify as factual. Narratives themselves should be cautiously treated as untrustworthy as they link facts to assertions of connection between these facts and those connections are often the real source of dispute.

That isn't, of course, to say there are no connections that can be drawn or no narratives that are true, but that even accepting facts as such isn't in itself enough to address the problem as they, in themselves, have limits to the information they provide. At the same time, we certainly do need to come to better agreement on those basic facts since that information is necessary to develop a better comprehension of competing narrative claims. Even in literary theory, one has to quote the work and use it as a basis for any extrapolation one wishes to explore. So in all this, facts remain central, but often not the heart of the disputes.

And, as an aside, really, we have to do a better job of approaching disagreements and faulty perception as something other than an avenue for adversarialism and debate, discussion and more cooperative forms of exchange need to find space to grow. That this is so much a competition instead is as much of a problem as anything else.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:59 PM on January 7, 2017 [3 favorites]


The "wisdom of the crowds" is a very frightening idea for me.

The whole idea of 'wisdom of crowds' comes from economics and the idea that no one entity can have as much first-hand knowledge of economic activity as the collective first-hand knowledge of everyone. But the more people are making decisions based on smaller sets of intermediated information that lots of people are consuming and passing around rather than their own personal experience, the less that idea would seem to apply.

(See, for instance, election futures markets, where the participants are in no sense representative of the electorate and are basing their predictions not on personal experience but shared polling data and news reporting.)
posted by straight at 8:38 AM on January 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


Where do we have the discussion about how to reverse this, develop critical thinking, support benevolent oligarchs, reduce tribalism, develop early-warnings and other protections against loss of democracy?

(Wanted: the minds of Metafilter, a more wieldy format, and explicitly solutions-oriented discussions. What else?)

Note, Boyd did devote her last paragraph to fixing our 'media literacy' problem ("the way forward is hazy...."), but I am asking whether the web (ideally MeFi or equivalent) has, or can have, a place for wrangling out how to go about doing it.
posted by Baeria at 11:58 AM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


Building personal relationships in meat space is probably the most important thing to do right now.

Quitting social media would also help - it's mostly a hall of mirrors. I myself quit Facebook not long ago, and the benefits to my thinking and emotional well being have been surprising.

I'm not quite ready to quit this place. It's the last place I engage with others online above and beyond business or government necessity and relationships.

Big picture, making the citizen primary over the consumer would go a long way. Marketing and branding, as has been hinted at by infinit and others, supplied the vector via which disinformation passes. Marketing is weaponized psychology, and should be treated as the danger it is.

There's many things that need to happen to fix these issues, but they are so entwined with the west's self image that it's probably going to require a miracle to fix. The complexity of the issue is about the only part I agree with whole heartedly in Boyd's article.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 12:58 PM on January 8, 2017 [3 favorites]


Guys, it might as well be this thread until they shove us out of here or make a FutureFilter. hmm and up another gate price point maybe

Sounds like il Papa was right back in July

RTFA

unexpected plot twist
posted by infini at 1:20 PM on January 8, 2017


soren_lorensen: I was taught to push back mightily against post-modernism.

I came at post-modernism backwards; I posited the way of responding to information/experience based on my education and experience (primarily in psychology) and then discovered people had handily invented a word for my method before discovering that most people used it as an insult. it gives me an.... interesting perspective, because I posited the conclusions of post-modernism from my own experiences and knowledgebase instead of learning it as a theory before applying it.

In my experience, the vast majority of the people who dismiss/ironically use "post-modernism" either use it incorrectly (usually the fail is "nothing is real so nothing matters") or don't seem to actually understand it, using it instead the way "politically correct" is used - an insult without a meaning. When I've seen conservatives use the word, it usually seems to mean "those people don't have good values" or "those people don't think hard work is important" or "those people are out of touch with reality" or "those people are selfish and greedy" - a continuation of threads of anti-intellectualism and puritanical individualism instead of a repudiation of post-modernism per se.

We often make use of perspectives without being able to name or describe those perspectives; I'd argue that analyzing one's reactions instead of just reacting is the additional step found in academia and advanced thought, not the reacting itself. A lot of people I've spoken to accept that people have different experiences and that two people describing the same event can have very different stories which may or may not be accurate. The idea that people create narratives about what matters in their life, and those narratives selectively exclude things is likewise widespread in assumption, if not description. See also: "That's my opinion" as an end to arguments.

The fracturing of communication to allow more voices to be more widely spread has done nothing but reinforce post-modernism and demand of people increasing distance from our own immediate responses to understand ourselves in a broader context of interacting cultures. This self-distancing seems to currently be coded progressive/sjw, but it could easily become a conservative tool as well (and be quite useful for people who actually want to conserve the working/useful/valuable parts of their culture).
posted by Deoridhe at 3:02 PM on January 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


As a side note, I think discussing the election as if the results were ideologically driven instead of shaped by voter disenfranchisement is a mistake. Yes, the ideological discussion is important, but so is recognizing that practical forces in key locations can have a significant effect.
posted by Deoridhe at 3:10 PM on January 8, 2017 [8 favorites]


Old people went for Trump in much higher numbers than young people. I think cognitive decline and internet media illiteracy by the boomers is a much more likely factor.

Yup. My parents believe just about anything they read on teh Interwebz and all they read is the Limbaugh/Fox/Jones crowd for a decade now. Ready-made Trump voters.

They literally cannot process the news that Trump is not keeping campaign promises (not jailing Hillary; not forcing Mexico to pay for wall; not fighting proposals to cut to Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security; populating cabinet with billionaire insiders, etc) cause their trusted sources have not described reality so.

Once you decide the mainstream media is lying to you, you are at the mercy of your ideological addictions.
posted by sacre_bleu at 3:23 PM on January 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


"nothing is real so nothing matters"

I'm a stem sort so does anyone know if the Hindu concept of maya (illusion) and the fundamentals of vedic philosophy have been compared to post-modernism?
posted by infini at 8:58 PM on January 8, 2017


Where do we have the discussion about how to reverse this, develop critical thinking, support benevolent oligarchs, reduce tribalism, develop early-warnings and other protections against loss of democracy?

It can't be reversed; you can't un-invent the internet. The Old Consensus is dead; put down the paddles and walk away.

If you really wanted to win? Three steps, really, simple little things: Plan, Conquer, Rule.

1. Come up with an economic agenda that will act as a successor to Marxism that provides a way to mediate against the forthcoming social disruption that will be caused by automation and AI
2. Invent or infiltrate a major political party that can successfully win popular support for that agenda
3. Implement that agenda

Trumpism, Brexit, the far right populism, none of that shit actually works. But it's simple and it sells. You can't beat it with muddle-though, status quo gradualism, "basically, everything will be exactly like now, except you'll be eligible for food stamps and we'll pay for job training." You can't rally people around the flag of "I think if you really stopped to think about it you'll find everything's basically fine." That ain't the clay that will deafen them to the siren song of Breitbart.

The left needs a new big idea. (Easy for me to say, right?) But I think that's what's so. The Libertarians out in the Valley will be happy to put us all out of work and float off on an island of their own should we rioters threaten to breech the compound. The right will continue to believe that if we could just get rid of the brown people and go back to the Old Ways everything will be fine, and they'll continue to believe it until the robots lead them off to the Home. Unless the left can come up with something better, something big, it'll keep on losing. A new center is needed; the current one has already spiralled out of control, and the lion hits Bethlehem Jan. 20th.
posted by Diablevert at 9:18 PM on January 8, 2017 [1 favorite]


So, yeah. Ultimately, I think this battle can only be won if people learn to actually think again instead of reaching for that share/retweet button or pick the appropriate reaction face thingy on facebook. And education won't solve this; I don't even know if schools are even capable of teaching students how to think as opposed to get a number, date, formula or whatever right on paper. To put it simple, it feels knowing the "when" is more important than the "why".

They are capable. I know because I did a program in high school that taught this way. For example in history I never had to remember a bunch of dates for tests and exams. We sure had to know about events and issues and how they fit together. We were also required to explain why and how one thing led to another. We also were expected to analyse competing theories and decide which ones we thought were correct and why.

It's one of the reasons that I'm bad with remember specific historical details like dates but I have no trouble remembering what happened, when it happened in context or a timeline and why it was important. The coming of the internet and google has been awesome because it's now dead easy to look up the details of an event.

In contrast the regular history course was a stereotypical match dates with events sort of course.
posted by Jalliah at 10:10 PM on January 8, 2017 [2 favorites]


I have the problem of having been trained in pattern recognition as part of the industrial design process. Punnily enough, the worry is always to be aware of the pitfalls of apophenia
posted by infini at 2:18 AM on January 9, 2017


How is that a pun? Were you designing pits?
posted by RobotHero at 6:36 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


On the possible similarities of post-modernism, and connections to Vedic thought, I have one small observation. In my readings of Buddhist thought, I've been struck many times by its similarity to existentialist thought.

I do not really understand post-modernism as expressed here in this thread. All I can gather is that it's connected to post-structuralism, and contains many voices. I've always understood it to be a reaction to plain, old modernism.

I've not been very impressed by the couple of post-modern novels I've read. Barthleme, who is the only one I really remember from those days, was not very good. I only remember him because I found him funny at times.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 7:29 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


The joke above is that one must be cautious with pattern matching. The human tendency to place one self between the pattern and the data is so common as to make the match an imposition of will, not a discovery of a 'natural' pattern. The scare quotes are only because a better replacement word is escaping me.

So match all you like, but be careful you're not just staring in the mirror.
posted by Strange_Robinson at 7:38 AM on January 9, 2017


SIGH

The joke above is
posted by infini at 11:38 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]


I thought some mefites might be interested in this old public opinion study. It's from 1998, showing that how bad Americans are at not just knowing things, but correcting incorrect knowledge.

It's one of the earlier studies that started to tease out the difference between an uninformed citizenry and a misinformed citizenry. I thought it was particularly interesting because it shows that this issue predates the widespread use of the internet or screen time.
posted by politikitty at 12:05 PM on January 10, 2017 [1 favorite]


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