October 15, 2018

The Rhetoric of Fake News

Without a proper academic study, it’s difficult to say just how much the passing along of fake news (mostly by linking and tweeting) is the result of not knowing something is fake but passing it along because it fits a world view or knowing it’s fake but passing it along because it fits the needs of a persuasive intention. There are other ways to bifurcate this and many possible explanations I’m choosing to ignore right now.

I think Regina Rini’s column in The New York Times is interesting and instructive in coming to some understanding of this situation. Specifically, she foregrounds the role of situated ethos in the viral growth of fake news: We tend to believe friends and family whom we trust. As she says:

Part of the reason that people believe you when you share information is this: they’ve determined your credibility and can hold you accountable if you are lying or if you’re wrong. The reliability of secondhand knowledge comes from these norms.

So she’s proposing a different way for Facebook, in particular, to use the power of credibility to fight fake news. Here’s the upshot:

Instead of using this data to calculate a secret score, Facebook should display a simple reliability marker on every post and comment. Imagine a little colored dot next to the user’s name, similar to the blue verification badges Facebook and Twitter give to trusted accounts: a green dot could indicate that the user hasn’t chosen to share much disputed news, a yellow dot could indicate that they do it sometimes, and a red dot could indicate that they do it often. These reliability markers would allow anyone to see at a glance how reliable their friends are.

There is no censorship in this proposal. Facebook needn’t bend its algorithms to suppress posts from users with poor reliability markers: Every user could still post whatever they want, regardless of whether the facts of the stories they share are in dispute. People could choose to use social media the same way they do today, but now they’d have a choice whenever they encounter new information.

I like this idea. Here’s why I think it won’t work:

Of the two propositions I mention to start this post, I have reason to believe (my hypothesis) that the linking and tweeting of fake news for a rhetorical purpose is more likely than passing it along out of ignorance about its fakeness. I doubt there are many people who are a mere head-slap away from realizing — Gadzooks! — “I’ve been passing along Birther nonsense because I trusted Uncle Joe. If only there had been a red dot!” My contention: Uncle Joe’s nonsense got passed along because his niece or nephew had a persuasive intention to do so whether the stuff was true or not. A reminder: As long as you don’t get caught and shamed, lies and fallacies and fake news are just as much tools of rhetoric as, say, Aristotle’s artistic proofs.

An uncomfortable number of people today do not trust the news media despite its attempts at transparency and its well-established Code of Ethics. Who, exactly, is going to trust a red dot placed by Facebook based on … what? Where’s the trust coming from? What’s the ethos?

I really do like Rimi’s idea … ten years ago.

It’s too late.

October 2, 2018

“Joonyper” Wins Festival Award

Joonyper from acline on Vimeo.

“Joonyper” — a film by Carbon Trace Productions — won Best Documentary/Reality Short at the Ozark Mountain Webfest.

September 27, 2018

Watch Every Child

Every Child from acline on Vimeo.

Here’s the latest from Carbon Trace Productions.

September 20, 2018

“Every Child” to Screen at Public Affairs Conference

My student documentary team and I have finished another short film entitled Every Child. It premieres as part of the 2018 Public Affairs Conference at Missouri State University.

The conference opens with the Unity in Community Film Festival — a day-long screening of films following the conference theme. My team produced two of the five films. You can check out our work at Carbon Trace Productions.

The feature film of the festival is Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison.

In other news:

I ditched the Springfield Report website that used to be a publishing venue for my multimedia journalism class. And I ditched my Carbon Trace bicycle/alternative transportation blog because it was hacked in a brute-force attack. Because I’m also running the non-profit production company on that domain, I felt it best just to let that bit of work slide into oblivion.

Rhetorica, however, will live on. I back it up regularly enough that I can move the content anywhere if something similar should happen here.

If you visit the Carbon Trace Productions site, you’ll notice something called Eyewitness in the menu. That’s the news arm of Carbon Trace Productions. There’s not much there right now, but soon we’ll begin making it something like Vice for Springfield.

President Trump visits Springfield tomorrow for a rally. I’m unable to attend. But I may have something to say following the fake news reports 😉

As a professor of journalism, does that mean I get to be an enemy of America, too?

June 26, 2018

Bearing Witness

I leave this morning, Texas-bound, with one of my Carbon Trace Productions documentary crew members. We’re going to have a look at the situation on the border.

Rhetorica is not the proper publishing venue, so you should follow our story on Twitter (@arcline, @carbontraceprod) and on the CTP Facebook page. We’ll also post any resulting recap video on the CTP/eyewitness site, which is the (new) news arm of CTP. You’ll find a link on the CTP homepage.

June 25, 2018

Harshing the Civic Mellow

Nail. Head. Hit.

When it comes to protests, mean words, civil disobedience, boycotts, public shunning, we may disagree when one or other is wise or called for. But these are entirely legitimate tools of political action, civic action. Many calls for civility are simply calls for unilateral disarmament from those protesting injustices and abuses of power.

That’s Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo.

Calls for civility almost always come from people with social, economic, and political power who don’t want their tender mellows harshed.

June 23, 2018

Verify Then Publish

No need to waste a lot of finger tapping to explain this. It’s a simple matter of practicing the discipline of verification.

No news organization should have run a single word about Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ alleged incident with The Red Hen restaurant until speaking with the person who allegedly tossed her out on her ear.

The Washington Post has finally done the work that should have been done before anything was published.

You see, Sanders is part of an administration that lies to the American people. Until checked out, the safest bet was to assume she was lying.

June 20, 2018

Why I Laugh at Millennials

I’m a Baby Boomer.

And I’m an admirer of the theory of generational personality developed by William Strauss and Neil Howe.

Add one more thing: I’m a fan of the Milennial generation of which my daughter is a member.

But I laugh at them. I laugh at them to shame them. I laugh at them as a rhetorical strategy. I want to convince them to vote in numbers that would eclipse my generation. I want them to save us from ourselves.

So I laugh at them and shame them. I shame them on Facebook. I shame them in the classroom. I shame them in face-to-face conversations. I shame them because I’m ashamed of my own generation and the mess we’ve made of things. I shame them because I cannot think of a more effective way to engage them on the topic of voting (and I’m ashamed of that).

I don’t tell them how to vote or what politicians to support because I trust and admire most of their values.

I shame myself because I’m begging them to vote.

June 19, 2018

Big Lies, Small Lies, and Child Abuse

The government is telling lies about its abuse of children on the southern border. Like any fallacy, logical or otherwise, this tactic can certainly be employed as a rhetorical strategy. Big news there, right?

There’s been plenty of fact-checking and outrage. But let me suggest another tactic for ending this abuse of children: Shine a light on those responsible.

Big news, again, right?

No. I mean expose the people who are actually doing the dirty work on the ground: Border Patrol agents. These men and women need to take moral responsibility or become monsters. Former Head Customs and Border Protection Gil Kerlikowske lamented the effect this duty might have on the agents.

I suggest each agent is morally responsible for their own soul. If agents choose to put children in cages — and make jokes about their anguish (re: PBS link above) — then we have the right to hold these individuals responsible for the damage they cause.

Agents should refuse this duty. And they should gladly accept any consequence for refusing as morally superior to following heinous orders.

I’ve been tweeting about it:

April 2, 2018

The Sinclair Speech

There are many problems with the copy Sinclair Broadcast Group “forced” its news anchors to read. I’m just going to hit a few highlights after getting this out of the way:

Reading this speech on air was unethical. Every journalist asked to do so should have refused.

Here’s the speech as published by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: [with my comments]

“Hi, I’m(A) ____________, and I’m (B) _________________…

(B) Our greatest responsibility is to serve our Northwest communities. We are extremely proud of the quality, balanced journalism that KOMO News produces.

(A) But we’re concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country. [Calling them “news stories” suggests these are the products of news organizations. If that is so, exactly which organizations are we talking about, and how do you know they are “one-sided” and “irresponsible”? What are your criteria for these assertions?] The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. [Is this statement referring to the previous statement? If so, again, name the news organizations involved and say how you know they are producing one-sided and biased “news stories.”]

(B) More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fake stories… stories that just aren’t true, without checking facts first. [This screams for details and examples (i.e. reporting). Without such details and examples, this statement is itself an example of one-sided, biased information — otherwise known as propaganda.]

(A) Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’…This is extremely dangerous to a democracy. [Ditto]

(B) At KOMO it’s our responsibility to pursue and report the truth. We understand Truth is neither politically ‘left nor right.’ Our commitment to factual reporting is the foundation of our credibility, now more than ever. [“Now more than ever” re: the previous unsupported assertions. Again, details. IOW, do a little of the truth-pursuing you’re telling is so valuable. Do some “factual reporting” right now.]

(A) But we are human and sometimes our reporting might fall short. [You “fall short,” but others are unfair, biased, and counter-factual? Please explain — with examples.] If you believe our coverage is unfair please reach out to us by going to KOMOnews.com and clicking on CONTENT CONCERNS. We value your comments. We will respond back to you.

(B) We work very hard to seek the truth and strive to be fair, balanced and factual… We consider it our honor, our privilege to responsibly deliver the news every day. [Show, don’t tell. Show that you seek truth and strive to be fair by naming the offending news organizations and showing us examples of exactly how they are doing all the bad things you allege. Your credibility (what little is left of it) depends upon you showing your work.]

(A) Thank you for watching and we appreciate your feedback”

This is just utterly embarrassing.

Forget for a moment that reading this propaganda is unethical based on nearly any reasonable understanding of the SPJ Code of Ethics. Do the “journalists” who read this stuff owe us any fidelity to logical consistency? This is like some kind of Orwellian doublespeak: reproducing the very things it criticizes — right out in the open!

How sad that anyone values their paycheck above this unethical and embarrassing boot-licking for an employer.

That’s easy for me to say; I’ve never been put in this position. And these people have families and financial responsibilities.

Neither of those two things absolves them of reading this crap to a public that now should no longer trust a single word they say.

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