In the wake of the Donald Trump presidency, there’s been a sudden new ‘fake news’ narrative appearing in social and media discourse.
The discourse arising tends to point at two things:
- Individual people exist in echo chambers, and seek to consume and share content that fits their worldview, without regard for truth.
- At the same time – there is also a general distrust in mainstream outlets, and the fake news dog whistle is actually used to criticise the mainstream media – by suggesting that it’s the mainstream media that is reporting things wrong.
One only needs to look at the responses to @WashingtonPost’s Twitter account to see examples of this.
Caveat: It’s hard to tell if accounts like this aren’t troll bot accounts.
While I don’t think that the mainstream media is out and out producing lies or fully factually incorrect content, I think it is fair to say that the media has a vested interest in producing certain kinds of content, and it does seem that a lot of what we see on the media now is more opinion or ‘analysis’ – which isn’t something that needs to withstand basic fact checking.
Recently, I’ve taken an interest in watching RT (Russia Today – a Russian state run media outlet). It’s interesting to see the difference in what RT says about particular issues, as opposed to say Fox News.
For example, let’s look at Allepo:
The Fox News narrative mentions deaths caused by rebels and government forces.
The RT article mentions ‘liberation’ and no mention of civilian casualties by government forces.
So we have two problems:
- People are just going to share whatever suits them.
- The media have their own agendas which influences the content they produce.
Now we have a problem – how do we decide what content to consume?
Also – we’re not just concerned about the actual truth of the matter – but we also need to know what other people are thinking or reading.
The answer: meta-news.
Instead of reading news from your favourite news site, whether that’s RT, Fox News, Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Washington Post – you read a factual, algorithmic aggregate of all news websites.
How this would work, is that some kind of web crawler will read and view news content as it released, and analyse the frequency of certain words, the general meaning etc. It then presents that story with a breakdown of the various narratives being presented, who’s presenting them etc. For example, on the subject of Aleppo, as well as giving the facts of what happened (and who’s reporting what facts), it would report which outlets are using the term ‘liberate’ and which are focused on civilian deaths by government forces etc.
The tool could be also be used to report sentiment on social media. For example, as the story breaks, it can report ‘users on twitter are saying …’. Further investigation can show that ‘Users that say this about x subject, are saying such and such about y subject’.
This tool isn’t a solution to finding the actual truth about a matter, that still depends on journalists publishing the truth. It does however, reveal a different kind of truth, and is reliable at that (if you trust the algorithm) – the what the world is saying about certain subjects. Perhaps that’s a way of breaking free of our echo chambers.