Thursday, December 01, 2016

The Dangerous Consequences of Designer News

For all of the amazing, wonderful things the Internet brings us and allows us to accomplish, the election of Donald Trump lays bare a darker side of the digital world. I’m not talking about the Deep Web (although that is pretty dark), but the proliferation of what I call “designer news” outlets and the influential role they play in today’s political arena.

In the wake of Trump’s election victory, you can find numerous interviews with his supporters on Facebook and other sources. To no one’s surprise, they are cringe worthy revelations of just how poorly informed Trump voters are, but further, how lost they are in a parallel universe of false facts. How did they get so bamboozled and befuddled? Designer news.

As the Internet has grown, so has the number of so-called news outlets. You would think that having more news sources would be a good thing, but that really isn’t the case because I’m not talking about “objective” news programs, but designer news tailored to a viewers preconceived ideas of reality. To be fair, the “news” on the Internet runs the ideological gamut from socialism to fascism and every “ism” in between. However, one group has had a particularly powerful influence on the political landscape in American — the far right.

Trump’s surprise triumph in November brought to light just how pernicious and persuasive the conservative megaphone has become over the years. From Glenn Beck’s “The Blaze” to Breitbart to the Drudge Report to FOX News, conservative voters have myriad sources for their daily news intake beyond the corporate media, and myriad opportunities to have their bigotry normalized and their worst fears justified.

Fake news is a hot topic right now, but for millions of Internet news consumers, there is no agreement on what is fake and what is actual news. Again, watch interviews with Trump supporters and you’ll discover that real news for them is whatever they read on a conservative site. Hillary Clinton is a cold-blooded murderer. Millions of illegal immigrants voted in the last election. Obama is a secret Muslim. This is the kind of “news” conservative sites offer, and loyal viewers accept as true, and that helped convince angry hordes of white voters to believe Donald Trump was their savior.

There is no easy answer to this problem. The Internet should remain a free and open source of opinions of all kinds, and I’m certainly not in favor of censorship, but when you have a sizable population under the thrall of liars and misinformers, the problem needs to be addressed. Yet it all comes back to one’s perception of reality. What will it take to change a person’s concept of reality when objective facts aren’t enough?

No comments: