Friday 26 May 2023

Fact check marketing

Fred Skulthorp has a useful Critic piece on the disinformation game and attempts by big media to present themselves as trustworthy oases in a chaotically dishonest world.

The next great disinformation panic

Journalists gain trust by trusting the public

The first great disinformation panic started roughly around 2016 and lasted right up until the present day. Every time you logged on to your social media, you were at risk. Your vegetative scroll through the timeline became a multi-million pound information defence operation aimed at countering “fake news” and “disinformation”.

In the space of just half a decade, an entire new infrastructure of media was set up to tackle this grave threat to Western societies. “Expert” NGOs signed lucrative contracts with government departments and social media companies. Philanthropic donors, from Google to Bill Gates, pumped money into “not for profit” newsrooms to garner audience trust around issues that were supposedly being wrecked by this age of fake news and misinformation.

Anyone paying attention already knows that big media "fact checking" is a marketing tool as Skulthorp makes clear. He also passes on this useful point.

As the Substacker Gurwinder rightly points, the spread of misinformation doesn’t necessarily obscure the truth. It ultimately helps people become savvier and more attuned to the reality of a “dishonest world” which of course has many sources. The old model of news, where an audience relied on a few outlets, is dead. Instead, a complicated ecosystem of information reflects a complicated world. Pretend otherwise, try to draw a simple binary between the world of goods news and the world of the bad, and your audience will go elsewhere.

I don't see strong evidence of people becoming savvier and more attuned to the reality of dishonest media or the dishonesty embedded in international bureaucratic policy. Yet social change can be slow and not necessarily obvious until tipping points make it so. If Skulthorp is right, change could be dramatic.


Sam Vega said...

Fact checking is fine, but the BBC actually stoops to the worst kind of Daily Mail-style innuendo and equivocation. Here they are on the death of the 2 boys in Cardiff which led to the recent riots:

The police have said that, in the minute or so before the crash took place, they turned into a main road and were half a mile away from the scene of the crash on Snowden Road.

The only reason why they didn't continue on the road towards where the crash took place is because there are bollards between Stanway Road and Snowden Road.

So, the police were on the main road and they are correct: They were not behind the boys, they weren't in the area where the crash took place.

But the only reason they weren't there is because they knew they couldn't follow the boys any further because the road was blocked.

This is a force under pressure.

This is a deliberate attempt to discredit the police and brand them as liars who were chasing the boys, but denied it. Obviously, the police chased the boys but the boys eluded them by going through bollards. At the time of the crash, they had given the police the slip and were not being pressurised into reckless driving by a pursuit. The police statement clearly reflects this. They say that they were aware of the boys, were in the area, but were not pursuing them. But the BBC wants them to be "under pressure". The pressure here is being applied by the BBC. Why on earth can't they report this tragedy without siding with the critics of the police?

We need inference-checking, not fact-checking.

Tammly said...

I predict that the change will come and it will be dramatic.

Doonhamer said...

The lass appointed to this Project Verify by/for the BBC, Marianna Spring (named after a Californian resort) sounds like the perfect fit. Born, February 1996, and raised in London, independent London school, Oxford, Guardian, BBC no problem. Shame about the shade, but not ugly.

A K Haart said...

Sam - "the BBC actually stoops to the worst kind of Daily Mail-style innuendo and equivocation"

Spot on. It comes across as amateurish bias, but presumably it isn't because it caters to an audience which is relaxed about innuendo and equivocation. Yet the amateurish flavour of it is there - talented people who might consider a career with the BBC must see it and surely don't find it appealing.

Tammly - there are certainly signs of something big just over the horizon.

Doonhamer - the kind of person who could go on to become a useless MP. She probably believes in what she is doing too.