More proof that Facebook doesn’t “get” news, let alone information verification. Really, guys. Pander to your users some other way that won’t annihilate the information stream.

Facebook doesn’t get news, information, journalism, or facts.

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They are going to deem a news site’s “trustworthiness” by surveying their users.

Do these users have first-hand knowledge of the publications? How to gather, verify, and analyze data? Are they trained? Have expertise? Have direct knowledge of the publication, the stories, or the methods?

No.

So how does this method do anything?

It doesn’t. It is relying on amateurs doing work for free.

Not very professional at all.

And how is this different than the status quo, in essence? People post articles they think are trustworthy on their newsfeeds, and you see them in the Trending sidebar.

Remember all that to-do about “fake news”? Who put those articles up there, commented, and shared them?

Facebook users!

Facebook is treating news like the old game show Who Wants to be a Millionaire, using the “Phone a Friend” or “Ask the Audience” lifelines to make decisions.

This is a company that is clueless about information, as in, knows zilch. Nothing.

And it glares.

Facebook should just get out entirely. They cannot handle it. They can handle other things, and should stick with their strengths.

News has always been their weakness, and they can’t fake it.

This method is an outrage to anyone who cares about quality information because this makes an already bad situation a farce.

Machiavelli, Ponzi, and why social media’s hype needs to be scrutinized.

The Prince is a vile read.

But it is a good map of how this frontier is being run.

Do not cry about a temporary hit to Facebook’s finances.

It reminds me of feudal systems where people had to pay tolls and other fees to function in a powerbroker’s turf.

Social media destroyed the fabric of the old gate-keepers, who were absolutely stupid and unteachable. They memorized the little rule that they had power, never thinking that power can be challenged, weakened, and taken away. Billionaires are very disposable.

Don’t ever kid yourself.

Dictators get slaughtered.

But the robber barons of social media made a lot of damage.

Yet we don’t question the basics.

You know, for instance, how do we know the followers we have a real or just bots people buy to inflate their numbers?

How do we know we are getting hits?

We can be hidden or exposed on the whims of a tyrant, and never know it. We have people perpetually outraged about something on Twitter…

Yet how do we know they are real people? Maybe someone has fifty accounts. Maybe they are being paid to spread the hate.

In The Prince, these kinds of tactics were fair game: from destroying rivals (or now, their credibility) to inflating support by paying people to protest or make damage that gets blamed on a rival.

Meaning the actual numbers may just be a virtual Ponzi scheme.

Yet we just accept the narrative about the power of the Internet.

It is still all about the Benjamins: companies that advertise and pay for exposure, get more exposure, meaning what seems to be popular isn’t.

Do I think everything on social media is a lie?

No, but the rigs pop out to me on numerous levels, and yet we give power to these sites in some belief we get some power and control in return.

Alliances and deals can be struck to keep certain voices out, for instance, or promote other voices that seem to be so-called “overnight sensations”.

The landscape isn’t being tested, questioned, or properly surveyed. Even with my own experimental dabbling, I find many problematic areas that need to be scrutinized.

But we don’t have the kinds of information-gatherers who are willing to go up against these virtual barons.

And that’s a big black hole hiding a wealth of facts we need to know right now…

Memo to the New York Times: Social media liberated readers. It did not make them dumber — or smarter. It just emboldened them.

The New York Times is stuck in the past.

And they certainly do not live in the real world. Not now.

But not ever.

Social media broke down the power of traditional media, but people have always misused facts to suit their own narratives.

But so did journalists. They misrepresent information all the time.

How many articles let readers know the PR firms that worked over the facts and angle of a story?

So a group of ignorant people took a snippet of a speech and twisted it to proof something nonexistent.

People have done it for years.

We have even had academics doctor pictures and results to make a nonexistent case.

Cyril Burt doctored his studies using fake twins to “prove” that intelligence was hereditary. He did it before social media and people believed him.

Social media didn’t make people dumber. People have always been players those games.

When we will face human nature?

There were always underground movements that spread misinformation just as there always were media outlets that did the same. When we want to force people to think like we do, there have always been intellectual tools to do it.

It is nothing new; so let’s not blame the machines for human nature.

Internet’s descent into tyranny: Fact-check is the new Censorship.

It was inevitable. You allow Internet’s robber baron’s to be super-rich, they become tyrants.

They have become control freaks of the worst sort.

“Fact check” has nothing to do with checking facts or information verification.

Google, Facebook, and Twitter have decided to play Daddy to the world.

It is the oppression of opinion.

Or, censorship.

When you do away with the gate-keeper as social media did, it destroyed journalism.

And they were fine with that.

When destructive ideologies became normalized, such as pro-ana, anti-vacc, and terrorism, they shrugged their shoulders.

But when opinions that ran counter to the robber barons, well then, let’s force everyone to think alike and censor opinion.

Not fact, but opinion.

Good luck with that.

People do not listen to authorities. Did you listen to your parents or teachers when they told you to stay chaste and not drink?

Oh, I bet you did as you mocked your parents for being oblivious squares.

Far from discouraging forbidden fruit ideology, social media just entrenched it.

Well played, children.

Making the same mistakes as traditional media, children?

The Stasi had people spying on their family members.

They struck out, too.

Information verification is needed. The Big Three are not the venues for it.

It is why the Internet is going to see its fortunes dwindle.

Because they do not know history.

They honestly believe Big Data can save them.

It didn’t save communist and fascist countries that had dirt on every citizen.

The dictators still fell. Those systems failed.

People put up with things for a while, only for a while. They indulge their robber barons until the day they don’t. Propaganda works to a point. Censorship works to a point.

And then people just implode.

And then explode and go looking for a new saviour.

The Internet failed to live up to certain promises. All the knowledge was a click away, and that access to the whole world was supposed to make people rich and famous.

And then it failed.

Disillusionment sets in little by little, until people no longer have a use for it, and look elsewhere.

No algorithm can beat human nature. People risk jail, torture, and death sentences to do what they want.

We still need truth and reality. We still need facts.

We just need a better method to get them and disseminate them.

And in that regard, we have a long way to go.

News is about Questioning and Verifying: Learning to see beyond the magic show

People often wonder how I can be both passionate and frustrated when talking about the problems in journalism and what it needs to revitalize itself. I answer it is why I am both passionate and frustrated that answers their question: it is like being a stage magician who knows all the tricks of the trade, but when you explain to people how those illusions are created, they dismiss you as being a moron because they saw the man in the tuxedo cut a woman in half and then put her back together. You can point out the rigged box and the science behind why you can’t just hacksaw someone like that all you want, they give you a smug little look as they think you are some sort of paranoid conspiracy theorist because you question what is unfurling right before your eyes and yet they never wonder what life on the stage is really like.

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Journalism is not a simple or transparent machine. You have to be right inside that machine to know how it works. There are lots of little feints and ruses journalists use to present a version of reality to their audience. For example, print reporters love to use “colour” in their stories to humanize and shade a narrative. Depending on the role of a newsmaker or subject of a story (hero, villain, victim), the colour and the shading will be very specific.

Or, what facts get included or excluded in a story will also alter the perception of reality. If I tell you a woman was mugged on a street corner in broad dalylight as she went to pick up her daughter from daycare, there will be outrage as the nice little Victorian flower was trampled on by a horrible person. But if I tell you she was mugged because the robber saw she was selling drugs on that same street corner, the sympathy turns cold. If I then told you the “mugger” was the brother of one of her regulars who overdosed and died and the thief made an attempt at vigilante justice and gave the entire sum to his widowed sister-in-law who was fighting cancer, well, your sympathies may very well turn to the mugger himself.

As a journalist, I had to make decisions on what to include or exclude in a story. I have interviewed people who were in jail, but not all of them deserved to be there because their life was a prolonged tragedy and they made misguided decisions that boxed them in right into prison. They were released and never broke the law again because they never were a danger to society. But some of those people were that malicious and earned that sentence. Often, if I try to include both kinds of people in the same article because they all ended up in jail for the same underlying reason, an editor will cut out all those who were less sympathetic in order to focus on the sympathetic ones.

That’s not a minor omission: it may seem the author was making a case that all people who are in jail shouldn’t be there, but that’s ignoring the ones who should be there. The original message may have been, it is a case-by-case consideration, and we must always look at each person before we make that ideological call, but the final copy may completely ignore that subtle, but important message. That omission skews a perspective, and makes it less reasonable — and the journalist has no idea what the final article will look like until she receives the published hard copy.

You may have a journalist who is ideologically balanced, but if an editor is more partisan, the final product is not going to fully conform to a reporter’s original intent.

But news producers aren’t the only ones up on stage at that magic show. Public relations firms, publicists, and image consultants try to manage that show from behind the curtain — and their reach can go beyond traditional media.

When I was just starting out in the late 1990s, I snagged a job interview at one of the most well-known public relations firms in the world. The interview was in Toronto, and I wanted to see what firms were looking for. I did not expect to get a lot of information, but that day, I got more than a bargained for.

The woman who interviewed me went the most the standard gamut of what you’d expect — save for two things. There seemed to be some really big to-do that I had to wear pantyhose at the office, even if I wore pants to work. I am certain men did not have the same obligation at the workplace, but that wasn’t what caught my attention.

It was her computer screen.

She told me she was monitoring a online forum on behalf of a client, but as I scanned the screen, I noticed she was doing a lot more than that — she was posting under a handle other than her own name, and from what limited information I could see, she never disclosed to any of the posters that she was not just some person who enjoyed conversing in chat rooms — she was being paid to skew a perspective on behalf of a paying client.

And from that day on, I was always vigilant when it came to political discussions on forums. I may participate once in a while, but when people on forums want to destroy, mock, or belittle someone with a different point of view, I always recall my old interview, and remember that most likely, that person may very well be paid to try to discredit and shame an opposing point of view.

They are mere agitators, and those operatives work from both the Left and the Right. They may have silly handles and even a following, but their intents are Machiavellian all the way.

It is easy to get caught up in a magic act. It is fun fantasy, but the truth and reality seem mundane in comparison…until you realize there is a darker intent: that the show, is, in fact a “sell” meant to put you in a certain frame of mind so you do not consider facts, logic, or emotional literacy — the three absolutle essential biggies when trying to make decisions on how you should live your life.

But you have to remember it is smoke and mirrors. News is processed truth and not a primary source of information. There has been tweaking, enhancing, tipping, and tucking.

With social media, the problems that plagued journalism plague it, but only more so.

It is not a foregone conclusion; it is simply because when it comes to the  atom of truth we call a fact, we have absolutely no respect for it. People want to be enraged, smug, and even hurtful to others they have decreed to be inferior to them.

Magic shows are all about simple deflection from facts. It is about pretending to defy truth and reality, but the magician is merely playing optical games with us.

But to get to the truth, we have to go beyond the masks and feints to see what is being hidden from us — and why.

The Walking Dead is the metaphor for modern Journalism: The revenge of cannon fodder and how the profession lost its footing

The Walking Dead is a peculiar comic book, but then again, zombies are a peculiar breed of villain. Usually, villains have a face and a name and are integral and definitive characters in any given story…yet zombies are faceless, nameless, and just plain dead. They rarely have any sentience; they just kill in droves. They are not just the ultimate followers; they are cannon fodder twice over: they were killed by some other zombie before joining their ranks. They are toxic, yet disposable and you do not need to know their backgrounds, motive, or personality to get into any story with them. Their heartlessness comes from their mindlessness, just like killer robots.

What makes The Walking Dead more interesting than the standard horror concept is that the focus of the book is two kinds of cannon fodder: the zombies and the people running away from them. You do not have to know anything about the fleeting revolving door of characters you meet: they’ll all die sooner rather than later. It is as if you are a kid whose parents own a seafood restaurant and you foolishly name the lobsters in the tank and consider them to be your pets. It is less about heroes and villains per se, but more about what is usually ignored in stories: cannon fodder.

The entire cast of heroes and villains are essentially cannon fodder. That usually is the consequence of an ongoing story where anyone can die. Once established, that rig in the story turns the protagonists and antagonists into cannon fodder. Who they are becomes secondary to what fate holds in store for them. It becomes a competition in a “reality show” style: who gets bumped off is the focus, not how the winner comes out on top.

This genre of storytelling has a particular wrinkle: were characters downgraded from hero to cannon fodder – or were the cannon fodder upgraded to hero?

It depends on the story, but in the case of The Walking Dead, the answer is clear: the disposable characters got an upgrade. Because most are so poorly defined, the fact that there is any focus at all is important (In Afterlife with Archie, on the other hand, the characters received a major demotion for the simple fact these are established characters with decades of history, and in a single panel, it is all over for them).

With zombie tales, it is usually (but not always) a viral “outbreak” that causes the sorrows. A virus picks off the weakest first, but it does not discriminate: everyone is a target. In the comic, the elevated fodder usually succumbs to the virus that infects them. The zombies are mere carriers, nothing more. We don’t need to know anything about the zombie; they are just the delivery vehicle that lets those around them know that anyone can fall at any time.

The comic book and the show have both proven to be very popular, an odd thing given that character development is not the primary focus. It is all about survival and body counts. Where the wander virus will hit, how, and whom is where we build our primary suspense. Personality and character background are mere afterthought. The story begins at the very end where no one can possibly find Happily Ever After, and now people must endure a life that will always be inferior to a life they have known before.

Which brings us to the collapse of journalism.

So many journalists are still wondering what happened. They do not get a thing. They still believe Donald Trump did something to them to make them lose face, and despite what you think about him, he merely bypassed them before tweaking his nose at them.

If you want to begin to understand what happened to journalism, go read The Walking Dead. It is popular for a reason: because it has somehow managed to tap into a zeitgeist and exploit it.

But there is more to it than that.

A virus hit journalism with catastrophic results: it is called the Internet, though a more appropriate term is the Fourth Medium. When we talk about things “going viral”, we mean people are posting someone else’s stuff on their social media feeds and blogs. That’s it.

And that virus decimated journalism.

Reporters chased after big newsmakers, such as world leaders and A-list actors, and every once in a while, they had “man of street” pieces, asking regular citizens for their opinions on the big fish. These stories were disposable filler, while most news stories were considered the important essence of the news media.

But then came along the Fourth Medium that did something interesting: suddenly, the focus was no longer on the newsmakers so much as it was on the “man on the street” opinions that clutter Twitter and Facebook.

In other words, the cannon fodder got elevated thanks to the virus. Sure, the opinions were fleeting and disposable, but the cannon fodder finally got top billing in the Fourth Medium, something that eluded them in the first three.

Whose opinion or story went viral became more interesting than the personality or background of the person who posted it. We don’t have to bother with how a married couple are getting along, so long as we can call dibs on seeing their marriage video of them tangoing while reciting their vows.

We do not have to make any emotional investments: we just have to view the next viral amusement, whether it is a DIY propaganda poster insulting a world leader, a ranting Tweet, or a feel-good story about a cat in need. There is no commitment required, no understanding, and no emotionality. Just react to the next virus.

To newsmakers, they lost their luster and clout. Sports viewership is down, movies are tanking, and books and magazines are crumbling. Gravitas has been felled by the virus. It does not matter if the amateur opinionist knows not a single thing about a newsmaker, it will be their snarky opinion that will get all of the attention, front and centre for five seconds before the next snarker is up.

Journalism could not compete. Those in the profession were so used to wielding all of the power in determining what issues would be discussed and how people would view those issues and newsmakers, that did not see that the Fourth Medium was akin to a zombie apocalypse…and now their lives are in tatters at the end of the story where they cannot expect their lives to ever be as good as it was before the outbreak began.

Journalism needs to completely change. The old world is gone, and in many respects, it is a great relief, but if reporters honestly believe they can go back to the days where they held all of the cards, they are mistaken.

The question is how can a profession so utterly clueless to a shifting reality move forward in a much more alert and humble frame of mind. It is a concept I have spent the last two decades studying, and the answers are not as easy or passive as many in the profession deluded themselves into believing.