A key pillar to democracy is the establishment and availability of truth. Today, the establishment of truth is under question, and the availability of truth can be swamped by the availability of “alternate truths” based on “alternative facts”, creating what has been judged by the academy of sciences, to be a threat on the same level as climate change.
This is a reflection on how we got to this point.
- The Strange Partnership: News media and Advertising.
- The News Media: Revealing and disseminating truth
- Advertising: Professional Of Manipulation Of “Truth”.
- The Strange Partnership.
- The End Of The Partnership: End Of A Single Truth?
- Cable TV, product placement, and advertorials
- Division of Truth: Tribalism, Polarisation and Outrage.
- The Consequences:
- Democracy: Dysfunctional Government.
- Gatekeepers of Truth: Can Gatekeepers of Influence become tax collectors.
The Strange Partnership: News Media and Advertising.
The News Media: Revealing and disseminating truth.
For many years, news organisations flourished on the principle of uncovering and disseminating truth. News media took great pride in unbiased and accurate delivery of information. and for uncovering truths hidden by corruption and political manipulation. Revealing an important truth such as the Watergate story, was the path to success in journalism.
The media became the “forth estate” and empires have be built on the dissemination of truth.
Advertising: Professional Of Manipulation Of “Truth”.
Advertising grew from the concept of making people aware of products and services, into the promotion of the value of products and services, and eventually to tools to convince a market of anything from which brand of product to buy through to how people should feel about specific government policies.
Advertising has become the industry of influencing people and the manipulation of “truth” for profit. Most of us have a relatively positive attitude towards advertising, as funds content we want, and it feels like only other people pay for it. It feels like advertising gives us things for free! In fact, as explored later, we end up paying more for these free things, than if we just paid directly.
Ok, there have been some bad experiences. Just thinks about the history of advertising and sponsorship of sport:
- Cigarette advertising mislead and even caused deaths until it was banned.
- Alcohol sponsorship and advertising in sport reached a level many see as inappropriate.
- So now the main vice advertised is often gambling.
Yes, selling people products that are harmful to them does seem to attract the biggest budgets, but we still get free coverage of sport in return, right?
The Strange Partnership.
Yet, despite seemingly direct conflict between:
- journalism with a motive of revealing object truth
- advertising with a goal of altering and manipulating perception of truth
Despite this, it seemed like the system worked. How could broadcast television have existed without the partnership of advertising? It did seem that some “other people” may be influenced in a negative way by advertising, but most advertising was surely harmless, and it was hard to see how it influenced anyone. How could pictures of people at the beach influence people to by sugary carbonated drinks when they never really talked about the products? Surely most of the advertisements were a waste of money by companies that were just effectively giving us things for free. The fact that the price of the advertising became integral to prices we pay for everyday items never deserved thought. Of course, all the best products were the ones paying for advertising, so of couserese they were the products to buy.
Surely if bad products were being advertised, the news media would uncover that problem and tell us. Further, we introduce safeguards, but the introduction of safeguards is confirmation that advertising can be harmful.
After all, there was always a clear division between between content and advertising. Ok, except is sport where the players wore the sponsors banding and messages were displayed around the events.
The End Of The Partnership: End Of A Single Truth?
I recall thinking cable TV was ‘just wrong’ as changed television from being ‘free’ and accessible to all, into something people then had to pay for when there was no need for anyone to be made to pay.
Advertising can make television free for all!
Yes, I was that naïve. But then, I still here, “why not use Facebook and WhatsApp” as like Google search and YouTube, they are provided for us, free of charge! I have a separate exploration being loaded on how we pay, that the cost is not that they get our data. Turns out each of pays far more for towards these billion dollar companies than we realise as they drive up the price of everything we buy.
But the big problem with cable, was that it enabled so many channels that information could now afford to target niche groups instead of being designed to be consumed by everyone.
The next blow to the single truth began when product placement removed the clear boundary between advertising and other content. Product placement started the move towards everything we see being potentially adjusted to manipulation our perception of the world in order to increase profits.
Advertorials and Reviews.
We also had the introduction of programs specifically designed to feature products from sponsors. Lifestyle programs such as those featuring holidays that become a showcase of holiday destinations owned by sponsors, or fishing programs that can showcase specific fishing products. Truth for sale.
Division of Truth: Tribalism, Polarisation and Outrage.
A key step in the creation of truths or ‘influencing’ creating division was the introduction of product based tribes. Just as ‘gangs’ have either patches or other marks of identification of the ‘tribe’, what if products could provide entry into a highly desirable tribe?
The ‘Marlborough Man‘ became a tribe that could joined by smoking a brand of cigarettes. The tribe of young attractive people partying at the beach, a tribe that could be joined by drinking sugary carbonated drinks. Each of these products had packaging that allowed clear display of their brand, enabling member of the tribe to have identification just like street or ‘bikie’ gangs. The concept became so popular that heavily promoted brands started trying to ensure the member of their tribes could also identify themselves, through putting labels on the outside of clothes, and distinctive looks to fashion products.
Possibly the ultimate in tribalism has been achieved by Apple Inc., and an early form was emerged with the PC user vs Mac User advertisements. The concept was not just try and sell the abilities of the computer, but to link ownership of the computer, with capabilities delivered by the device.
But Apply has been able to step up the tribalism, by broadcasting to all contacts with an Apple device whether you are part of their tribe or not. Attaching a blue colour ‘patch’ to a person in the contacts list, just as ‘gangs’ and other tribal groups have used to identify members of the ‘tribe’ for centuries. Special interaction such as ‘Facetime’ is only possible with members of the tribe because, unlike other video communications software, ‘Facetime’ is only available on Apple devices.
Polarisation: Feeding Divergent ‘Truths’. Tribes By Ideology.
Online media has ‘engagement’ as key metric. Engagement is the amount of time people spend on the website. With literally trillions of dollars in valuation available, a lot of resources can be funded to drive up engagement. So what drives up engagement?
- Fake News: Fake news gets more attention as it can be more remarkable than real news and spreads faster.
- Polarisation: Studies show the greater the polarisation the more motivated to activism, which translates to more time devoted to consuming and creating communication.
There are other factors, that are all negative for society, such as the fact that keeping people unhappy and feeling less like socialising physically drives engagement. Lower levels of education corelates with ‘engagement’. These all suggest the path for companies with eg, but the relevant points from ‘truth’ are the roles of fake news and polarization.
Fake news facilitates polarization, as it flexibility with facts enables news to support either side of a division of viewpoints. Fake news is a the key enabler, polarization is the goal, as polarization increases motivation to maximise consumption of content. The existence of fake news calls all news into question, with a poll here indicating more people feel even mainstream media has fake news most of the the time, than believe fake news is rare in mainstream media.
Outrage: The End Game of Polarization.
Consider recent examples of polarization:
- Flat Earth theories.
- 5G mobile phone technology.
- Covid-19 vaccination resistance.
- USA Stolen election conspiracy.
All result in outrage, but with progressive increases. It is difficult to see why anyone is outraged by the idea the Earth is not flat, but some definitely are outraged. The 5G outrage is a just a little easier to understand, as the claim is that 5G gives people Covid-19, and therefore kills people. If it were true, it would be a reason to be outraged. However, those outside the ‘conspiracy’ have little reason to be outraged.
But the real advance has been polarization that leaves both sides outraged.
- Those for vaccinations are concerned the unvaccinated increase spread increasing loss of lives.
- Those against vaccinations fear vaccines can kill otherwise healthy people.
This provides and opportunity to further polarise both sides. Both sides are fed exaggerations that support and strengthen their beliefs, resulting in exaggerated claims that will cause more outrage on the other side. Antivaxxers can become so outraged as to plot murder.
Then there is the US presidential election and the claims of vote rigging and election fraud.
Democracy: Untrusted and Dysfunctional Government.
The US is different form the rest of the world, but it sometimes provides a window to the future for other countries.
I listened to a podcast episode of ‘coronacast‘ (also on Spotify and Apple podcasts), which is hosted by physician and journalist Norman Swan, the father of is Emmy award winning political reporter Johnathon Swan. I felt the points raised by Johnathon Swan on US attitudes to government extremely revealing. This is a foreign born political journalist, explaining the elements of US politics that are surprising to those outside the US. Three key points were raised:
Dr Anthony Fauci, despite being a multi award winner holding the same role under presential terms of both sides of politics, has now become such a polarising figure that he is so despised by many republican voters that he is referred to in fund raising emails and was recently described as equivalent to the Nazi death camp doctor Josef Mengele.
Jonathan laughed at the image of Australia portrayed by right wing media, as an “authoritarian hellhole”, rather than the reality of most Australians having less restrictions from Coivd-19 than most Americans. “Australia has become part of the political conversation in the US.A” with video of a woman in border quarantine on arrival presented as life in Australia during Covid-19, in contrast to the Hollywood stars who chose to live in Australia and appeared on talk shows discussing the experience.
“America has a very different culture than Australia, there would not be the toleration, the government forcing you to download a certain app, and then checking in, …..even having been in US and absorbing the policital culture, I find it … I dont like having a goernment app on my phone, frankly, at all!”
It is this last point that I found most telling. Firstly, to be clear, the government does not force people to have an app on their phone, nor ever require people to have a phone. However, most people do install the government provided app that was used to log visits to potential Covid-19 exposure sites. I will explain full details elsewhere, but the key point of culture, is that people who allow Facebook to have apps on their phone, or Apple full ability to track their every move, would not feel comfortable installing a government app that has independently verified source code and legislated privacy provisions limiting their access to any data to medical use for the Coivd-19 pandemic.
Simply put, the government is far, far less trusted than Facebook in the US.
Democracy In Question.
In fact government is so little trusted, that the results of elections are no longer trusted.
It is even possible that the next US president will not be the one chosen by the election.
Against quoting Jonathan Swan on “the land being open” for Donald Trump in 2024:
“100% the lane is open, he, at the moment anyway, is, not just his public statements, from my own reporting, he has put in place all the elements that you would put in place if you were running for president. He is building the political structure, he is doing the work that you would do if you were going to run for president again. The other thing he is doing and i know this is a bit off topic, but it is important, he is doing all the normal things you do as a candidate, fundraising packs and political teams in place, and polling and all the rest of it. Forget that. He is also trying to put in place, officials at the state level who, go along with his vision of overturning the 2020 election. So what you could conceivably have is, not just Donald Trump running in 2024, but a set of public officials in place in key swing states, who would potentially negate the election results. Politically, I can’t imagine a country right now that is structured in a way to make it more difficult to do collective action. You have, the polarisation of American politics is very well documented, but just the information space. You know, the white house wheels out Dr Anthony Fauci on all the networks and whatever, and half the country just doesn’t listen. There is a huge information communication problem. they are trying to do it. They have acknowledged that, and they are trying to go through church networks, local networks, things like that, but you really do have a decoupling of half the country. It is not really half the population, but it is many of the states…. It is not just that they consume different media, which has been true for a while, it is that their social networks are becoming more and more hived off. Conservatives now, are building their own social networks, and they are also trying to make sure that the cloud side of it, is run by conservatives, so they can’t be kicked off these platforms like Trump was de-platformed for a lot of stuff. They’re basically trying to build a world and an infrastructure that is completely separate, That is what I mean when i say decoupling. So they are basically trying to build a world and an infrastructure that is completely separate. That is what I mean when i say decoupling. It is an economic decoupling to some extent too, it is asocial decoupling. People are moving to different areas within states to be with likeminded people politically. And its an informational decoupling. To me that’s the biggest problem when you talk about public health communication and trying to deal with the pandemic, the audience doesn’t listen”.
I recently discussed these same points in my “Lord Trumplemort” exploration, the possibility of the next US election not being awarded on the basis of votes alone is very real. The impact would not just be in the US, but felt globally.
Gatekeepers of Truth: Can Gatekeepers of Influence become tax collectors.
Then there is the economics of a world where the only way to successfully promote a product, or even have the market become aware of a product, is through one a very small number of channels.
Then channels then control access to the market, and like the Maria with “protection money”, participants in the market either pay the going rate . Currently. a percentage of the price of every single thing we buy goes to the marketing budget for that product. Unreasoningly that money then goes to Facebook, Google, Twitter to influence us in some way to buy things. The only way revenues of these companies can continue to grow, ifs is their advertising/marketing/protection allocation on all we buy increases. How this already contributes to inflation is something I plan to explore soon, but we all already pay a “tax” on the things we buy to not only fund these “free” services, but sufficiently in excess of what is required to run the “free” services to fund creating the most wealthy companies the world has ever seen.
To follow prior to the end of 2021.