White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders holds a briefing. Screenshot: C-SPAN
While U.S. press freedom continues to decline, “media-bashing enthusiast” President Donald Trump reiterated his hostility toward journalists who critically cover his administration on Wednesday, provoking a new wave of warnings from reporters and and supporters of the First Amendment.
Trump suggested that all “negative” reports should be classified as “fake” and the journalists who produce those reports should have their “credentials” revoked. He tweeted:
“Take away credentials?” These authoritarian impulses of yours are anti-American.
In an article published on Thursday, Folha—which has over 5.7 million followers on Facebook—noted that over the past several months it had begun to detect a sharp decline in interactions not just with its own Facebook posts, but with those of other major Brazilian newspapers as well. (Photo: Legal Loop)
Accusing Facebook of discriminating against “quality” content and accelerating the spread of “fake news” with its newly-unveiled algorithm, Brazil’s largest newspaper Folha de S. Paulo—which boasts a print and online subscriber base of 285,000 people—has announced that it will no longer publish its articles on the social media platform.
“In effectively banning professional journalism from its pages in favor of personal content and opening space for ‘fake news’ to proliferate, Facebook became inhospitable terrain for those who want to offer quality content like ours,” Sérgio Dávila, Folha’s executive editor, said in a statement. Continue reading →
Condemning President Donald Trump for creating a “climate of extreme hostility to the press,” more than a dozen Democrats in the U.S. House, with support from the largest communications labor union in the country, have proposed the Journalism Protection Act, which would make it a federal crime to attack or intimidate reporters on the job.
“President Donald Trump’s campaign and administration have created a toxic atmosphere,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), the bill’s lead sponsor. Continue reading →
A new report finds that threats to global journalistic freedoms are at an all-time high, with attacks on the press being increasingly reported in democratic countries as well as under authoritarian regimes.
The freedom of expression advocacy group Article 19 and online database V-Dem compiled data from 172 countries between 2006 and 2016, rating each based on their levels of internet censorship, harassment and intimidation of journalists, media bias and corruption, and other indicators. Continue reading →
There are lots of good strategies for beating both corporate and government Internet censors and snoops. These range from alternatives to Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Facebook and Twitter — to direct subscriptions to authors and pubs — to setting up your own VPN. All are worth the effort.
While Google’s Information Age dominance has long been recognized to have some unsavory consequences, the massive technology corporation has, in recent months, taken to directly censoring content and traffic to a variety of independent media outlets across the political spectrum — essentially muting the voices of any site or author who does not toe the establishment line.
This new offensive has coincided with Google efforts to clamp down on “fake news” and “extremist” content, which – on its subsidiary, YouTube – led to the categorical blocking of videos portraying war crimes and other disturbing events of the Syrian conflict and Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Other independent media figures, such as Luke Rudowski and Carey Wedler, on the popular video streaming service, saw many of their videos demonetized. Continue reading →
News consumers today face a flood of fake news and information. Distinguishing between fact and fiction has become increasingly challenging.
In the past, news organizations sifted through information to try to determine its validity and veracity. Being trusted for what they reported became an important part of journalists’ reputations.
But that was then.
You are part of the problem
Now the gatekeeping role that the legacy media newspapers and network television news once played falls to all of us. Today, everyone assumes the position of publisher. Technology has democratized the process of making, or making up, news.
Journalists no longer decide what goes public. Information flows unimpeded and unchecked through the internet, filling a multitude of websites, blogs and tweets.
All of it flows through social media streams and into our laptops, tablets and smartphones. Everyone who posts, or reshares, a news story on Facebook or retweets a link takes on a role once held by only a powerful few media executives. The problem that emerges today stems from the fact that most social media “publishers” fail to consider the responsibility for what they post.
And it’s not that the old gatekeepers were infallible or consistently apolitical. But in today’s technological world, we’re in the midst of an informational perfect storm. The equation I might offer would be: Velocity + Volume = Volatility. All the news on the internet moves so fast, and assaults us with so much, that the outcome becomes unpredictably dangerous.
Some people who use social media check what they publish. Others repost or retweet information without reading it carefully, much less doing any due diligence for accuracy. That plays into what those who produce fake news hope to accomplish. While some believe they hope to deceive people, press critic Tom Rosenstiel asserts, “The goal of fake news is not to make people believe the lie. It is to make them doubt all news.”
Some may think that young people, with their social media savvy, might be better able to assess the information they consume.
A Stanford University study found it shocking that many of them couldn’t “evaluate the credibility of that information.” The study noted that more than 80 percent of middle schoolers saw “sponsored content” as actual news. High school students didn’t verify photos. Most college students failed to suspect potential bias in an activist group’s tweet.
Step up your game
So what are news consumers to do? How can they act as their own gatekeepers, intent on vigilance and verification like the best journalists and publishers of old?
Here’s how to begin.
#1. Check out the source. This may seem basic, but it’s easy to read headlines without paying attention to who wrote it. Writers and websites operate with their own perspective. Some want to offer a balanced view. Some advocate a point of view. Others hope to deceive you.
Know the “who” or the “what” of the source. Is the source, website, Twitter handle or blog familiar to you? Have you read them before? Read other work they have done. See if writers you trust link to them.
Read the “About” section of the writer/website. Use search engines to track the name. Sometimes such sites as Linkedin or Facebook turn up basic background information. The key is to know where they are coming from.
#2. Check out the information. Do other sources corroborate what you’re reading, viewing or hearing? Have you used verification sites such as Snopes, Politifact and FactCheck.org?
Dick Grefe, a senior reference librarian at Washington and Lee University, alerted me that two professors at the University of Washington have proposed teaching a course “Calling Bullshit: In the Age of Big Data.” The course would “focus on bullshit that comes clad in the trappings of scholarly discourse.” What’s fake isn’t limited to news.
#3. Be aware of your biases. Remember that we tend to read, listen to and watch news with our own built-in prejudices. We evaluate information based on whether it supports what we already believe. It can be easy to discount that which upsets or challenges our worldview. Reports about “confirmation bias” abound. As studies and writers have noted, we basically believe what we want to believe.
Battle your own confirmation bias by expanding the sources of information you seek. Be open to thinking about different points of view. Read widely. Read counterpoints. Watch for innovations from the media. For example, one recent study published on MarketWatch placed different news sources on the “truthiness” scale. Another, older piece on businessinsider.com could help you identify the ideology underlining your favorite source of news.
There’s no need to close the gate, but be sure you know what’s flowing in. It matters.
Buried within the $619 billion military budget is a controversial provision that establishes a national anti-propaganda center that critics warn could be dangerous for press freedoms. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
In the final hours before the Christmas holiday weekend, U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday quietly signed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law—and buried within the $619 billion military budget (pdf) is a controversial provision that establishes a national anti-propaganda center that critics warn could be dangerous for press freedoms.
The Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, introduced by Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, establishes the Global Engagement Center under the State Department which coordinates efforts to “recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United Sates national security interests.” Continue reading →