Opinion | Alex Jones and the Lie Economy

“These damages and those likely in other cases look like backbreakers for Jones. But no, not any more than his banishment from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Apple’s App Store. His business empire, far from scuttled, has an estimated value of between $135 million and $270 million. Jones has profited and is likely to continue to profit from his labors in the Lie Economy, the marketplace where gullible viewers are sorted from the skeptical and delivered to advertisers who make the most of their naïveté. The $49.3 million damages awarded are an eyeful, but no sharp legal knife thinks Jones risks paying much more than a fraction of that in this case and others. Despite the awful headlines the case sent up, Jones’ audience seems steadfast. Jones may have lost here, but he’ll continue to win.
To describe Jones as a Lie Economy worker is not to declare false everything he says and broadcasts. Not even his imagination veers to that polar extreme. But a review of his greatest hits attest to the low truth-value of many of his comments.”

“Jones isn’t the only entrepreneur working the Lie Economy angle. Fox News Channel and its bastard offspring Newsmax and OAN excel at pushing half-truths that stimulate viewer appetite for more outlandish morsels. Tucker Carlson would have you believe that Jan. 6 was a false flag operation. Sean Hannity pushed a baseless conspiracy theory about the murder of Seth Rich. The channel hyped ivermectin as a Covid treatment and drenched its audience in bogus coverage about the “stolen election.” Again, not everything aired on these channels can be dismissed as lies any more than the notion that Jones broadcasts lies only. But the steady stream of spurious segments they do air seems designed to hook accepting viewers whose attention can then be sold to advertisers. Unlike Jones, Fox News commands a more varied advertiser base, including blue-chip companies. But health supplements and pain relief products appear in a recent ranking of its top 10 biggest advertisers. The frequency of ads for gold, testosterone, reverse mortgages and a home-title lock product (pitched by Rudy Giuliani!) on Fox and its neighboring channels remind one that shrewd audiences aren’t the primary target.”

Opinion | You Trust the Media More Than You Say You Do

“any honest assessment would find today’s newspapers more timely and accurate, fairer, and often better-written than the newspapers of 1979.”

“Citing a near-universal decline in institutional confidence isn’t an attempt to offer an excuse for newspapers. But it illustrates the pervasiveness of public colic over American life and society, and suggests the institutions might not have changed as much as the perceptions of them have. The best explanation for the uniform drops might be that we’re living in an age of heightened criticism and scrutiny that leaves no faults or blemishes unnoticed compared to earlier eras.”

“Another possible reason the press might have lost confidence: Reporting has not just become more critical in the past 40 years, but it’s also started covering topics it left largely untouched in earlier times. As Matthew Pressman wrote in his 2018 book, On Press: The Liberal Values That Shaped the News, as recently as the early 1960s, newspapers largely ignored matters of race, sex, class and inequity, topics that can make some readers squirm. There weren’t many stories about gender or trans issues in 1979. Other sacred cows, like organized religion, get much more scrutiny today than they did yesterday.”

“Yet does the public really have such a low opinion of newspapers? Gallup’s wording of its question is pretty vague. It didn’t ask respondents to rate the specific newspapers they read but to express their levels of confidence in the newspaper as an institution. They might have gotten a more positive answer if they had asked people how they feel about the daily newspaper they actually read. When the Pew Research Center asked this question in 2005, they found that 80 percent of Americans give favorable ratings to their daily. Local TV news, cable news and network TV news are rated only slightly worse. Granted, that’s data from a 17-year-old survey, but it shows that asking a slightly different question about the press can produce a startlingly different answer.”

The New York Times Belatedly Admits the Emails on Hunter Biden’s Abandoned Laptop Are Real and Newsworthy

“The New York Times published a story that quotes emails from a laptop that Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, abandoned at a computer repair shop in Delaware. The messages reinforce the impression that Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that reportedly paid the younger Biden $50,000 a month to serve on its board, expected him to use his influence with his father for the company’s benefit”

“None of this necessarily means that Joe Biden himself did anything improper or illegal. While Trump alleged that Biden was doing Burisma’s bidding when he demanded the dismissal of Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, for example, Biden plausibly maintained that the motivation was widely shared concerns about Shokin’s corruption.
Nor does Hunter Biden’s unseemly relationship with Burisma mean that Trump was justified in seeking to discredit the Democrat he expected to face in the presidential election by pressuring the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation of the matter. But it surely was a legitimate issue to raise during the presidential campaign, as Guthrie and other journalists unconnected to the Post recognized. The question is why the Times did not, and the answer clearly has more to do with partisan sympathies than the journalistic standards the paper claimed to be defending.”

Australia’s Highest Court Holds Media Outlets Financially Liable for Trolls and Shitposters

“Australia’s highest court has upheld a controversial and potentially destructive ruling that media outlets are legally liable for defamatory statements posted by online commenters on Facebook, a decision that could result in massive amounts of online censorship out of fear of lawsuits.

The case revolves around a television program from 2016 on Australia’s ABC TV (no relation to America’s ABC network) about the mistreatment of youths in Australia’s jail system. Footage of Dylan Voller in a restraining chair was part of the coverage. When media outlets covered this program and posted links to the coverage on Facebook, users made comments about Voller, and this prompted Voller to sue the media outlets. The comments were defamatory, Voller claimed, and he argued that the media outlets themselves were responsible for publishing them.

The media outlets countered that, no, they were not the publishers of third-party comments on Facebook and were not responsible for what they said. The outlets have been appealing to the courts to toss out the lawsuits, and they’ve been losing.”

“The country’s top justices determined that media outlets in the country are, indeed, publishers of the comments that users post on Facebook under stories that they link.

The logic here is absolutely terrible and destructive. Facebook has control over the tools for managing comments on media pages. The media outlets themselves do not, and they can’t “turn off” commenting on their Facebook pages. They do have the power to delete comments after the fact or use filtering tools that target keywords (to stop people from making profane or obscene comments) and can block individual users from the page.

Using these tools to try to prevent defamatory comments requires constant monitoring of the media outlet’s Facebook page and would demand that moderators be so agile as to remove potentially defamatory content the moment it appears before anybody else could see it. Nevertheless, the justices concluded that this is enough control over the comments for media outlets to be considered publishers. Two of the justices were very blunt that simply participating on Facebook made Fairfax Media Publications a publisher of the comments”

“It is easy to assume, as these other justices apparently have, that such a decision could not possibly cause a disastrous amount of online censorship because media outlets should know when a controversial story might lead to defamatory comments. The judges actually note this in the ruling. They seem to think that this is only an issue with certain types of stories and that the appearance of defamatory comments can be predicted in advance.

This is complete rubbish, and anybody with any experience on social media already knows this. Trolls, scammers, and spammers range far and wide (that’s the point of them), and it’s incredibly naive to think that a story that has no controversial elements can’t end up with third parties posting defamatory nonsense under them.”

“it’s why Section 230 of the U.S. Communications Decency Act, which generally protects websites and social media platforms (and you) from liability for comments published by others, is so important. It’s not just to protect media outlets from being held liable for comments from trolls. It’s to allow social media participation to even happen at all. Some large media outlets or companies might be able to afford around-the-clock moderation to attempt to catch problems. But even if they could, let’s be clear that they’re going to avoid as much risk as possible and delete any comment that has a whiff of controversy. Why would they allow it to stand if it could get them sued?

But smaller companies and outlets—and there’s no reason to think this ruling applies only to media outlets—will either have to hope Facebook gives them better tools to control who posts on their page or just not have social media presences at all.”

China bans men it sees as not masculine enough from TV

“China’s government banned effeminate men on TV and told broadcasters..to promote “revolutionary culture,” broadening a campaign to tighten control over business and society and enforce official morality.

President Xi Jinping has called for a “national rejuvenation,” with tighter Communist Party control of business, education, culture and religion. Companies and the public are under increasing pressure to align with its vision for a more powerful China and healthier society.

The party has reduced children’s access to online games and is trying to discourage what it sees as unhealthy attention to celebrities.

Broadcasters must “resolutely put an end to sissy men and other abnormal esthetics,” the TV regulator said, using an insulting slang term for effeminate men — “niang pao,” or literally, “girlie guns.””

Why some biologists and ecologists think social media is a risk to humanity

“My sense is that social media in particular — as well as a broader range of internet technologies, including algorithmically driven search and click-based advertising — have changed the way that people get information and form opinions about the world.

And they seem to have done so in a manner that makes people particularly vulnerable to the spread of misinformation and disinformation.”

“What we’re concerned about is the fact that this information ecosystem has developed to optimize something orthogonal to things that we think are extremely important, like being concerned about the veracity of information or the effect of information on human well-being, on democracy, on health, on the ecosystem.”

“The printing press came out and upended history. We’re still recovering from the capacity that the printing press gave to Martin Luther. The printing press radically changed the political landscape in Europe. And, you know, depending on whose histories you go by, you had decades if not centuries of war [after it was introduced].”

The Media’s Lab Leak Debacle Shows Why Banning ‘Misinformation’ Is a Terrible Idea

“while some circumstantial evidence supports the lab leak theory, there is still no scientific consensus on whether COVID-19 emerged from a research facility, a wet market, or somewhere else.”

“Facebook made a quiet but dramatic reversal..: It no longer forbids users from touting the theory that COVID-19 came from a laboratory.
“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured from our apps,” the social media platform declared in a statement.”

“the lab leak theory—the idea that COVID-19 inadvertently escaped from a laboratory, possibly the Wuhan Institute of Virology—has gained some public support among experts. In March, former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) chief Robert Redfield said that he bought the theory. (His admission earned him death threats; most of them came from fellow scientists.) Nicholson Baker, writing in New York, and Nicholas Wade, formerly of The New York Times, both wrote articles that accepted the lab leak as equally if not more plausible than the idea that COVID-19 jumped from animals to humans in the wild (or at a wet market). Even Anthony Fauci, the White House’s coronavirus advisor and an early critic of the lab leak theory, now concedes it shouldn’t be ruled out as a possibility.
This has forced many in the media to eat crow. Matthew Yglesias, formerly of Vox, assailed mainstream journalism’s approach to lab leak as a “fiasco.” The Post rewrote its February headline, which now refers to the lab leak as a “fringe theory that scientists have disputed” rather than as a debunked conspiracy theory. New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait noted that a few ardent opponents of lab leak “with unusually robust social-media profiles” had used Twitter—the preferred medium of progressive politicos and journalists—to promote the idea that any dissent on this subject was both wrong and a sign of racial bias against Asian people.”

“Big Tech takes its cues from the mainstream media, making decisions about which articles to boost or suppress based on the prevailing wisdom coming from The New York Times, The Washington Post, and elite media fact-checkers. (That’s according to information I obtained from insiders at Facebook during research for my forthcoming book, Tech Panic.)”

That 60 Minutes Story on Ron DeSantis and Florida’s Vaccine Rollout Is Wildly Flawed

“A 60 Minutes story on Florida’s vaccine rollout accused Ron DeSantis, the state’s Republican governor, of making a corrupt deal with Publix to distribute the vaccine. CBS reporter Sharyn Alfonsi noted that the grocery chain donated $100,000 to DeSantis’ election campaign and suggested the lucrative vaccination contract was a “pay-to-play” scheme.

It’s an accusation that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny: For one thing, Publix—like many large corporations—gives money to both Republicans and Democrats. But more importantly, the decision to have Publix coordinate vaccination was not even made by the governor’s office. According to Jared Moskowitz, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, it was his offices that recommended Publix. Moskowitz, a Democrat, has said that Publix was the best store for the job, since it has more than 800 locations across the state.

Indeed, when Alfonsi cornered DeSantis at a press conference and asked him about Publix, he gave a lengthy explanation that largely undercut her claims. He pointed out, for instance, that it wasn’t true that Publix got the vaccines first: CVS and Walgreens had already been contracted to coordinate vaccination for long-term care facilities.”

“Remarkably, CBS cut this portion of DeSantis’ response. In fact, the 60 Minutes story reduced his two-minute answer to just a few seconds.”

“This was not a case of a journalist condensing the essence of what a source told her: Alfonsi blatantly ignored the part of the governor’s statement that clashed with her narrative, and instead included a brief comment that made it sound like he became combative with her for no reason.”

The fantasy-industrial complex gave us the Capitol Hill insurrection

“American insurrectionists, for the first time in the history of this country, stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday. Offices were vandalized. Windows were broken. Statues toppled. A woman was shot and killed. Four others have reportedly died, including a Capitol Police officer. It was ugly, embarrassing, and seditious.

But it wasn’t surprising.

We’ve been inching, inexorably, toward this moment for years. I know this because I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time over the course of this presidency thinking and writing about what you might call the “epistemic crisis” or the “post-truth crisis” or the “misinformation crisis” — it all refers more or less to the same thing.

The American mind, or a sizable chunk of it at least, has been deranged by a poisoned information system. The way millions of citizens learn about the world, the way they form core beliefs, is irredeemably broken. And because the media environment has been blown apart by digital technology, “there is no longer any buffer between mainstream thought and the extreme elements of our politics,” as Politico’s Tim Alberta put it recently.

If the depth of that crisis wasn’t apparent before Wednesday, it sure as hell is now.”

“The road to this dark place was paved by lots of hands over many years. But the evolution of right-wing media into a fantasy-industrial complex is at the center of the story.

Propaganda has always been a bipartisan game, but media-driven polarization has become more asymmetric in recent years. The left mostly receives its news from organizations like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or cable news networks like MSNBC or CNN. However biased some of this reporting can be (and there’s plenty of bias), most of it is anchored by basic journalistic ethics.

This just isn’t true on the right. A 2018 book called Network Propaganda by three Harvard researchers is probably the best survey on this disparity, and it shows that American conservative media functions very much like a closed system, with Fox News at the center (at least until recently). The people who inhabit this system rarely collide with information beyond it, and the competition within it — on the supply side — is continually intensifying in order to meet the demand from audiences consuming the high-stakes narratives. As Brian Stelter, longtime media reporter and author of Hoax, told me in November, anchors at Fox are now struggling “to keep up with their viewers’ demand for propaganda.””

“Consumers of this stuff have been fed a daily diet of conspiracies and panicked claims about the death of the republic and the plot to steal the election.”

“If you watch Newsmax and OAN every night, if you listen to talk radio hosts like Mark Levin claim that “Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution are being destroyed by the Democratic Party and the media,” if you hear Sean Hannity (whose show pulls in 4 million viewers a night) insist, “We have a duty to investigate every legitimate claim of fraud and abuse,” if you’re inhaling QAnon fantasies online, you’re likely extremely deluded about the state of the world. Is it any surprise that we’re living in a golden age of conspiracy theories?

The president himself is the most consequential consumer of this stuff. Listen to his leaked hour-long call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and you’ll hear a hodgepodge of familiar conspiracy theories about hacked voting machines and forgeries and collusion among various election officials. It’s all laid out and distilled, just as you’d hear it on Newsmax or read on 4chan or Parler, the right-wing alternative to Twitter.

All these fictions have coursed through the conservative media ecosystem, and the insurrectionists who flooded the Capitol have imbibed it for months. It’s why they chanted, “Stop the steal,” and it’s why you can hear them saying, “They don’t get to steal it from us, they don’t get to tell us we didn’t see what we saw.” And it’s why something like 70 percent of Republicans do not believe the 2020 election was free and fair.

So we reached this precipice because millions of Americans have had a firehose of falsehoods blasted into their brains for months on end. They believe the election was rigged and stolen. And they believe that because they’ve been told exactly that, not just by the president but by a vast network of grifters and online provocateurs and political entrepreneurs who have cultivated and reinforced conspiracy theories about the election and god knows what else.

And all of this is facilitated by social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, both of which, as Warzel told me last year, pretend they’re not “arbiters of truth” and insist they “don’t want to weigh in at all” — but they’re already in that position and have been for a long time. These tech companies may not be putting their thumbs on the scale in the conventional sense, but as Andrew Marantz, author of Antisocial, pointed out to me in a recent interview, they’re “outsourcing those decisions to algorithms” that continually push users into blackholes of mutually reinforcing content. Whatever their intentions, these companies helped lead us to this moment.”

“If you believed — I mean really believed — that the president you supported won a landslide victory that was systematically undermined by seditious Republicans and Democrats, and that that conspiracy was being covered up by a crooked and compromised media, and at the same time you saw over 100 Republican House members and multiple senators questioning the validity of the election, and the president was telling you to do something about it, it’s not hard to see how quickly you might move from shitposting online to storming the Capitol.”

“Everyone who participates in this system of misinformation shares responsibility for what happened at the Capitol on Wednesday. We are reaping what they sowed. Still, Tucker Carlson goes on Fox News primetime hours after a violent assault on the Capitol and, naturally, casts blame elsewhere: “We got to this sad, chaotic day for a reason. It is not your fault; it is their fault.””

“It was obvious when a man walked into a DC pizza shop in 2017 with a gun because he believed a conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton running a child sex ring. It was obvious when armed protesters occupied the Michigan Legislature to protest Covid-19 lockdowns after an incendiary Trump tweet. It was obvious when we learned the Nashville bombing suspect reportedly believed in various conspiracy theories about aliens and lizard people. As this Wall Street Journal report shows, it was obvious in recent weeks as various watchdog groups warned of growing threats online. And it’s painfully obvious now after we saw the Capitol ravaged by rioters who believed, without any evidence, that an election had been stolen from them.”

“Every member of the Republican Party — from senators like Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz to the toadies working in the Trump White House — bear special responsibility for this crisis. They’ve known exactly who and what Trump is from the start, and they rode the tiger straight into the abyss.

And so many of them performed this ridiculous two-step, parroting Trump’s nonsense in one breath and winking quietly while doing it. Even on Thursday, before the dust has settled at the Capitol, Republican House members like Paul Gosar (AZ) and Matt Gaetz (FL) are spreading baseless conspiracy theories suggesting the assault was some kind of “false flag” perpetuated by antifa. And despite everything that happened in the past 48 hours, nearly 150 Republican lawmakers formally objected to the election results anyway.

If the fantasy-industrial complex churning out lies and conspiracy theories wasn’t bad enough, we’re also dealing with a much more pervasive problem in the press. As I tried to explain last year, we’re facing a new form of propaganda that wasn’t really possible until the digital age, something known as “flooding the zone with shit.” It’s less about perpetuating alternative realities and more about overwhelming the public with so many competing narratives, so much misinformation, that even well-intentioned people don’t know what to believe.”

“Without some kind of reckoning in right-wing media, there is no sustainable path forward for the country. And even if the complicit pull back from the brink, it’s probably too late anyway. So much of the damage is already done. The conspiracy theories that radicalized that mob are already out there, already implanted in millions of minds. Like some kind of political pathogen, they will keep working their will on the body politic.

That is our hell for the foreseeable future.”