There has been a lot of talk arising from Barack Obama’s recent 60 Minutes interview about what he called “truth decay.” The former president was referring to Trump and his movement’s incessant lying about all matters including the election results and their possible long-term consequences. “Our democracy seems to be teetering on the brink of a crisis,” Obama said. He continued, “It has now become a contest where issues, facts, policies per se don’t matter as much as identity and wanting to beat the other guy . . . that’s taken priority.”
Obama also added Facebook to the list of culprits and the role of its algorithms, which edit what people see.
And he’s right. Facebook and other social media algorithms are driven by ad buying: the more clicks a post has, the more ads people see, the more ads, the higher the rate of profit. Incendiary posts, those that peddle lies and misinformation often top the list. And Facebook loves it because they’re making cash money!
But this is not the only factor.
It wasn’t so long ago (10 years?) when it was reported that lots of folk were turning to Comedy Central and similar cable shows for news. Why? People were turned off by the big media corporations and how they were handling news.
A commercialization of news programming was at work, along with the rise of what was called “infotainment” in the drive to increase profits. News about people’s lives, work, and problems was replaced by celebrity gossip and other inane BS, about “crime” (read between the lines) while corporate crime went ignored. And folks got turned off and tuned out.
Of course, all this was preceded by Big Lie anti-communism — a billion-dollar industry aimed at discrediting socialism and its attempts in the USSR, Eastern Europe, China, and Cuba. Here conservatives and liberals alike joined in the defamation of working-class progress. They told some whoppers, and it seemed that the bigger the lies were, the more people that believed it. The 100-million-people-killed-by-communism Big Lie is a case in point.
With the end of the Cold War some of that was abated or perhaps redirected at a new enemy — Islam — though the GOP has revived it over the last couple of years in an effort to annihilate consciousness of and confidence in the socialist moment. Regrettably but not surprisingly, some centrist Democrats are joining the choir again in an attempt to explain away current losses.
Of course, there’s always been an element of incredulity in the working-class public about the news. I remember my buddy’s mom’s complete rejection of the moon landing back in the day. I told her that was silly. But oh my goodness, why did I say that? Furious, she threatened to tell my father. (I wish she had, as dad was quite a science buff himself.)
With the rise of social media and the collapse of local and regional news organizations, that attitude toward science and news is now magnified a zillion times in big sections of the public. And monopolization of the news media has added to the distrust.
As the Netflix documentary Social Dilemma reveals, people are now subjected to very different groups of information, different “realities” based on the algorithm’s sorting of information.
Of course, that’s only one part of the picture. Another is the proliferation of news sources, blogs, and citizen journalists, a positive development that oftentimes beats the capitalist media to the punch. But there’s an obvious downside as well: it’s a real crisis now, and we may soon have one-half million dead from Covid as a result.
Indeed, a common news narrative, as in the days of the big three news networks and a few dominant newspapers, is a thing of the past.
So yeah. Trump’s played a big role, but the capitalist mass media eco-system itself laid the groundwork.
The result: a profound crisis of the capitalist state and government. A crisis of confidence and belief. With half the voting population believing the vote was stolen, the very fabric of government is fraying and what bourgeois political science calls the social contract threatens to tear apart.
What should be done about it? How about public funding of local and independent news? Another modest reform might be at minimum to give equal time to labor and people’s news coverage. Many retrenching news outlets have permanently laid off labor reporters, thereby gutting trade union coverage.
But why not end all advertising as the main source for revenue publishing outlets? Yes, publicly fund the whole damn thing!
In the meantime, there is a need to go back to basics. Wasn’t it the Dutch philosopher Spinoza, who argued that the criteria of truth is practice, a formula later adopted by Marx and Engels? Form a hypothesis, test, examine the data, draw conclusions. Rinse and repeat. And then add an element of struggle.
In the face of “we-have-our-own-facts” GOP propaganda, social practice, that is, news reporting and analysis allied with real people experiences, must become the basis of social truth. Verify, then trust.
Source: Communist Party USA – An antidote for “truth decay”: Publicly fund the news