Sunday, 28 February 2021

Maybe high pressure lying was inevitable

Suppose we assume that the internet took off in terms of mass popularity about twenty years ago. It doesn’t matter how accurate that is, twenty years is near enough for a backward glance.

Until that time it was still possible for newspapers, radio and television to deceive the great mass of the public by omitting whatever information was deemed unsuitable for general consumption. Outright lies were not usually required when omitting key information or avoiding certain subjects was enough.

There were alternative sources of course. Small circulation publications such as Private Eye provided a cynical and satirical but limited alternative picture of current affairs. Mainstream satire may have told us that all was not well with the world, but generally only in a harmless and comical sense or one where more government was the implied solution.

Then the internet arrived.

It must have become obvious soon enough that lying by omission would eventually become problematic for mainstream media and the political classes. Not so much because lies could be challenged but because omissions could be filled in. Omissions could be anything from missing information to omitted uncertainties to alternative explanations. Too many alternative sources of information were flooding the online public space and the trend was bound to continue.

Yet since that time, lying by omission has remained the main approach to narrative control. It is easier than direct lying, less obviously culpable and numerous shades of crude titillation and celebrity irrelevance are easier to pass off as news to generally incurious audiences. But in an effort to keep lying by omission sustainable it has become necessary to counter those internet sources which fill in the omissions.

As a result, censorship, misinformation, smears and outright lying have become more important to mainstream media and the political classes. Necessarily so as governments and the media fail to deal with the issue by ramping up their integrity and transparency. Easily done but they don’t do it. One problem seems to be that they struggle to attract and keep people with integrity.

The coronavirus debacle tells us that lying by omission blended with outright lying works as an approach. Lies can be inconspicuously corrected later, but even so the approach probably does not work as well as simple omission did before the internet. For example, the ready availability of unofficial information tends to undermine the government position on almost any issue, taking with it any lingering faith in the integrity of the media and government experts.

In spite of intense coronavirus propaganda, its effectiveness is clearly crumbling in certain areas and the internet must be the main reason. In which case, future attempts to project a factually insecure narrative are just as likely to crumble when faced with alternative sources of information. Hence we see frantic attempts at censorship and equally frantic attempts to discredit unofficial sources of information and opinion.

It is as if the internet was bound to usher in high pressure lying to bolster an inherent weakness in lying by omission, especially within democratic societies. However the electronic age and push towards high pressure lying also opened up an opportunity. It slackened off the moral opprobrium of lying and allowed the creation of alternative realities orchestrated by money, technology and political ambitions.

High pressure lying and convincing alternative realities offer democratic elites the possibility of covert switching to totalitarian government while retaining democratic forms of political behaviour. The coronavirus mess offers us an obvious clue as to the future direction of official lies woven into new totalitarian realities. Health has turned out to be the Trojan horse by which high pressure lies and fake realities are inserted into the public domain. It will continue.


The Jannie said...

Unfortunately you're right. The PTB have found out for certain just how malleable the sheeple are and how easily they can be manipulated with lies, spin and outright bollox.

DiscoveredJoys said...

I suspect you right, or at least partly so. The other driver is the media searching how best to present information for its 'shock value' (because that sells advertising (the BBC has no excuse)). In some cases the 'lying by omission' is merely part of the process of stirring your readership's emotions by ignoring the boring stuff.

One of my red flags is any news item that trumpets 'bad thing up by 50%' without any other details (lying by partial omission). If, say, the headline was 'Number of people killed by exploding bean cans up by 50%' that sounds alarming. But if the actual numbers went from 2 people per year to 3 people per year... big yawn.

Now I'm not a Coronavirus or Lockdown denier... but I do wish the numbers were presented in a balanced way. Yesterday 144 people were reported to have died with or of Coronavirus. This is markedly down compared with previous weeks and a good thing. But... how many people die per day of various causes? You have to dig for the information, thank you internet, it's not presented alongside the daily figures. 144 people dying, while sad for those involved, might be 'trivial' or it might be 'alarming'. But we don't know at first glance what to expect in a country of roughly 70 million people.

DiscoveredJoys said...

PTO from Statistica:

In 2018 there were over 40 thousand deaths caused by ischaemic heart diseases in the United Kingdom, making it the leading cause of death in that year. Since 2001 there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people dying from dementia or alzheimers, which caused 26.5 thousand deaths in 2018, an increase of almost ten thousand when compared with 2012.

Ischemic heart disease: 769 per week
Dementia and alzheimers: 509 per week

...and we don't yet know how many of those sort of deaths might currently be recorded as COVID deaths. But even when COVID is no longer in the news, people are still going to die of other 'causes'.

A K Haart said...

Jannie - yes we have given too much away and there is no way to correct it. They know what we are collectively.

DJ - 'bad thing up by 50%' - I'm tempted to use that as a blog post title. Presentation of the coronavirus numbers is my main gripe. We know that some deaths caused by ischaemic heart disease are being classified as Covid-19 because it is on the death certificate. There may be good statistical reasons behind that but it skews public presentation of the data towards scary numbers rather than more balanced information.