Thursday, November 3, 2016

Institutionalizing the Political Lie

"In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 81 percent of respondents said that partisans not only differed about policies, but also about 'basic facts.'"--Farhad Manjoo in the NYTimes (here)

This phenomenon is not new, though it is probably newly-studied. Many of us have, for years, gone to our favorite websites, newspapers and cable TV stations for news, making our selection based on our own biases. Liberal? NYTimes, MSNBC, HuffingtonPost. Conservative? Talk radio (all of it), Fox News, Washington Times or Wall Street Journal. Of course, there is an entire smorgasbord laying out there as choices, some more extreme than others, almost none neutral.

The result, says Manjoo: "... there is more reason to despair about truth in the online age. ...because if you study the dynamics of how information moves online today, pretty much everything conspires against truth." Indeed. Donald Trump has turned the lie (one reporter counted them recently and he averaged 97 a day) into today's truth, which could easily be different tomorrow. No responsibility here, either. Just doesn't matter much what he says or does. The perception among his followers is that he's honest and courageous and nothing at all could stray any further from the truth.

Clinton, of course, has her own issues. She'll lie when the truth would serve her (far) better. Those of us who will or have voted for her must explain that the vote is not for that woman, but for the potential president she could be and certainly against Trump and all he stands for. I never felt the need to apologize for or explain my votes for Obama. Sad.

Says Manjoo succinctly, "The root of the problem with online news is something that initially sounds great: We have a lot more media to choose from." The unexpected result: "We gorge on information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not."

Manjoo quotes one researcher as finding that the internet "... creates an ecosystem in which the truth value of the information doesn’t matter. All that matters is whether the information fits in your narrative.”

At this point, we're pretty well screwed because "lies have ... become institutionalized." And our system suffers for it.


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