And Now, The “Fake News”
It’s Day Fourteen out here in the post-inauguration wastelands. Although it might seem that everything is continuing more or less as normal – people go to work, come home, spend time with loved ones and shop ’til they drop, like they have done for decades – society is actually hanging by a thread. The whole rotten mess is about to implode, and it’s all because of the evil, corporatist, right-wing hate mongers who have usurped democracy and set about to destroy the United States and the rest of the world along with it.
Meanwhile, in the safe zone of the White House – and in the homes of about 60+ million American voters – there is a different outlook on the state of things. The meme-master-in-chief has stuck it to the old guard of Washington, right from the beginning of his inauguration speech. He appears to be following through on campaign promises to try to create employment opportunities for American people in American companies, and dismantling supposedly harmful, globalist-leaning policies in favor of an “America First” approach. His feud with the media is a breath of fresh air to a lot of people who have lost faith in news organisations that have lost their non-partisan objectivity.
So who is correct in their views? Which reality are we occupying?
In the most simple terms, neither. As with every situation that is more complicated than a choice between beef or chicken for dinner, the most objective truth lies somewhere in between.
Accidental PsyOp? Intentional Cognitive Dissonance? Sad!
I wouldn’t even hazard a guess as to how many hundreds of thousands of words have been written or spoken about the effect of instant access to a wealth of knowledge in our time. However, it does bear a brief look in order to gain some kind of context. The rate at which we have gained that access has not allowed for our thought processes to catch up, so we end up drowning in an ocean of information. Information from hundreds of sources that is constantly being produced, analysed, edited and regurgitated at a pace that makes it impossible for the average individual to follow, let alone understand enough to make an informed decision. The time-constraints facing the average citizen – such as time needed for family, work and leisure – don’t allow for an in-depth, independent evaluation. It’s quite understandable then for people to turn to influential sources who have established themselves as trustworthy thought leaders, whether that means news organizations, anti-establishment journalists, politicians, celebrities, social media entities or otherwise.
Of course, it’s obvious that the people involved are human and can sometimes make mistakes. While the public tends to be quite unforgiving of imperfection, we can at least understand honest errors made in the attempt to do something well-meaning. The real problem lies within our perception of sources:
if there is an agenda at play, unless the individual – and by extension, the group mind – is willing to question the trustworthiness of all their sources, not just the ones they disagree with, that is a real danger to society.
Your Brain On News
People are odd creatures. In between the bouts of self-doubt/self-loathing that most people experience to some degree, we can also over-estimate our abilities and intelligence. Experiments that have tested people on their perceptions of their own intelligence find that the majority of people tend to class themselves as having above-average mental acuity, which by definition could not be true – if it were, the average level would be higher. We’re also very protective of our beliefs, especially when we have reached conclusions on our own. When these beliefs and perceptions are challenged, there’s a tendency to double down and combat the opposing view without taking any of those points on board. Our thoughts and beliefs are tied up with our identity, so when they are called into question, our ego, our very selves become threatened, and we instinctually fight to maintain them and our sense of who we are. Conversely, when we come across sources or other members of society which confirm our beliefs, we are validated. We become loyal supporters.
These are not secrets of the human mind revealed for the first time, but nevertheless it can be tricky to keep these cognitive biases in mind at all times, especially when facing down a tidal wave of opposition. There are a few groups who understand these thought processes very well, and use them to their advantage: those practicing in the field of psychology, advertisers, politicians and news producers, to name some. With reference to the latter two, there are two powerful weapons in their arsenal that they will use to succeed seemingly at all costs – polarization, and cognitive dissonance.
Neither of them are new. People have used these devices to influence the masses for hundreds of years. It’s only now in the Connected Age that the cracks are really beginning to show, allowing for a glimpse behind the shiny exterior at the dark and oily machinery that has been chugging away behind. The realization will most likely increase as time goes on, as Trump and his cabinet continue to open their mouths in public while the cameras are rolling.
The News World Order
One of the more interesting developments is the reaction of the media. With previous leaders, there was a safe element to their activity and rhetoric. It was easier to more or less predict the direction an administration would take with regards to most situations. Reporters and pundits could be almost certain that the White House or their spokespersons would give a somewhat rational and foreseeable statement on a topic. Votes and major political decisions could be expected to go a certain way, depending on the climate at the time, and the direction a presidency would go could be roughly plotted out over the four-year term. All that has been chucked out on the White House lawn along with the personal effects of the Obama’s. Trump is an unpredictable agent of chaos, whose first ten days in office have sent newscasters, editors and their audiences into frothing paroxysms of doom-crying or jubilation, depending on which side your ballot is buttered. His refusal – or inability – to act in a way that resembles a normal politician has experts, self-appointed and otherwise, struggling to keep up while they simultaneously try to parse what the hell the man is up to and what he’s actually saying in his odd rambles masquerading as presidential oratory. However, their bosses – the money men and women who keep the wheels turning in the business end of news – must be pleased, no matter their public political affiliations. The man creates news by simply existing, and not the boring, stuffy political pieces that only appeal to a certain type of news consumer. There’s an angle for every type of journalism, from tabloid tattling that you wouldn’t use to line a litter box, to the Sunday analysis in the broadsheets; the cackling, low-hanging fruit of daytime panel shows to the in-depth investigations that make or break public figures and institutions.
It’s been said before, but it doesn’t take away from the truth behind the statement: we are entering uncharted territory here. The need for critical thinking and skepticism when it comes to the information we receive is higher than ever. Check your sources, people, and check them well.
Stay tuned for next time, and a closer look at the tools and methods that all sides will be using, that we’re going to be seeing a lot more of.
(Main Image Credit: NBCNews)