Media: The Choice Between Misinformation and Uninformation
Eh. This isn’t what I say anymore these days, but I’m willing to keep this article up to show how idealistic (or naive) I’ve been at times.
The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.
Our media, generally speaking, are not trustworthy. They are not trustworthy because of conflicts of interest: most notably, they get most money from advertisers, not readers, and they have to follow government doctrine, for officials are prime sources (even in western money oligarchies).
These conflicts of interest have gone so far that media aren’t simply relaying everything that sells to their audiences, already with few reader or community interests in mind, but have long produced events for their stakeholders, who so direct public opinion. (This is one reason why IS fake video reports have to be taken seriously.)
Although generalized and simplified, what that means is that the media, most media, have ceased to inform. They spin, as wants the jargon; they misinform.
If we assume that misinformation is not what we as free, critically thinking people want, then our alternatives boil down to two choices.
One, to find better ways to inform ourselves.
Two, to opt out of it all, out of both informing ourselves and being (mis)informed.
One is extremely difficult. It has become very hard to find and assess reliable sources in the giant-and-growing sea of information around us. That is to a good degree due to all mainstream media following some agenda (and so turning on foreign Al Jazeera or RT or CCTV doesn’t cut it). Also, despite an ever more connected world, we usually still don’t know enough higher level people in other regions to verify information with. Then, it can even be another tactic to bombard us with “esoteric” sources that confuse rather than inform us. And so while adding to our news mix is smarter than just consuming one or two news channels, we are quite tangled in a web of misinformation.
Two, now, seems increasingly attractive and popular. Instead of wasting our time to be manipulated by people that don’t identify themselves (cui bono, but research that effectively for everything), we could say goodbye to the media. (To entertainment, too, but I don’t want to discuss hedonism and life priorities here.) This option is so attractive because once we opt out, we appear to be in a better position to use our heads. “Kill people? Why?” Certainly then, we wouldn’t need to be completely uninformed; we can move from a day-to-day news to a subject matter level, as with not following our countries’ propaganda machines but reading books on, say, geopolitics or economics.
Making for an abrupt end, two is what I myself have slowly been moving towards to (as I suggest, not without compensating through reading), and what I deem so viable by now not just to bring up in private conversations, but also here. We need to question whether we really are so informed, and consider cutting our losses if we find we don’t.
Newsworthy events, involving people, usually do not happen by accident. They are planned deliberately to accomplish a purpose, to influence our ideas and actions.
—Edward Bernays: The Engineering of Consent (1947).
I’m Jens, and I’m an engineering lead and author. I’ve worked as a technical lead for Google, I’m close to W3C and WHATWG, and I write and review books for O’Reilly. I love trying things, sometimes including philosophy, art, and adventure. Here on meiert.com I share some of my views and experiences.
If you have a question or suggestion about what I write, please leave a comment (if available) or a message. Thank you!
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