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Fake News Versus Misleading News - Dilbert Blog

Fake News Versus Misleading News

I’m watching the mainstream media have fits over so-called “fake news.” The theme they are pushing is that fake news stories are more damaging to society than normal news that includes the following:

1. True stories told out of context to intentionally mislead.

2. Biased reporting that the media doesn’t realize is biased.

3. Giving a spotlight to people who are lying.

4. Misleading by putting emphasis on some things and not others.

5. True stories too complicated for the public to understand.

6. True reports of sources that happen to be lying but we don’t know it. (That gives you the Iraq war, for example.)

7. Having boths sides represented when one side is clearly lying or wrong.

8. Simplification to the point of misleading.

9. Showing clear disdain for the opinions on one side but not the other.

I could go on. But I think you get the point. Most humans live the illusion that people can do a good job of sorting out truth from fiction if only they have good data. But that’s only true for trivial decisions with no emotional content. For any decision that matters, facts are irrelevant to decision-making. Humans choose their paths based on how they feel. Later they rationalize their decisions. The human mind doesn’t make decisions based on facts and reason. We only think we do. 

Does fake news matter in a world in which humans don’t use facts and reason to make decisions in the first place? Well, yes and no.

Obviously fake news can change people’s minds and influence the real world. If that influence causes people to act in some dangerous or suboptimal way, we can say the fake news was bad.

But what if the fake news is created with good intentions? For example, suppose you believed that Donald Trump would be the best president and you knew that facts and reason don’t change minds as well as fake news. In that situation you might create a fake news story that helps your candidate win, but you would be doing so in the interest of society.

In my worldview – that of a hypnotist and persuader – all news is persuasion, and it is presented for that purpose even if the presenters don’t think of it that way. According to this worldview, what matters is the effectiveness of the fake news and whether it is intended for the public good or just to generate click-ad revenue for the creator. Fake news is neither good nor bad. It is a tool of persuasion, just like mainstream news that can be either based on truth or not. In both cases what matters is how people are influenced. The underlying truth is generally beyond the public’s grasp. And it doesn’t matter most of the time.

if you live in the two-dimensional world where you still think truth and facts and reason matter to decisions, you probably think fake news is a problem. But in the 3rd dimension – where persuasion matters and reason is an illusion – fake news is a tool. And a tool can be used for good or evil.

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