Does Social Media Increase Our Ignorance in the Current Post Truth World?

By Des Pensable copyright 2016

Social media is driven by maths algorithms designed to mainly send information and news that people find interesting.  Hence if you love a sport such as tennis or football it will predominantly send you information about sports. If you write comments about the sports and your friends like them they will get elevated in your contact group. After a while you will find that the people reading  and responding to your comments generally agree with what you think. You have just created your own media echo chamber. This could be bad for you.

The problem here is that each person only has a limited amount of time to take in new knowledge and if it is mainly spent on taking in knowledge in your favourite area with people that agree with you and think the same way as you do then you start becoming ignorant about other things around you that might be important such as political decisions that might affect you and your family or perhaps information about the severity of Global Warming. So how did it get like this?

Typically the main stream commercial newspapers used to distribute news in a specific way. The front page told you the big news of the day and as you worked your way into the paper it told you dribs and drabs of other things that were happening both locally and elsewhere.

It was here that you became aware of a wide range of issues that may not have seemed important or even interesting at the time. However, it informed you of other things happening around you. TV news was originally formatted to do the same. Social media doesn’t generally do this.

Newspaper editors knew how people read their papers decades ago. If they were aligned with the government or the opposition and they always have been, then they could present information favourable to that political party on the front page with back up stories to compliment that front page story on the next couple of pages.

They often gave alternate points of view either no coverage or buried them deep within the paper.  The TV news became the same. If you only read the first few pages or watched main stream TV then you were most likely being politically manipulated.

Worldwide there has been a massive decline in newspaper readers and  people have stopped buying the newspaper and more importantly stopped placing advertisements in the classifieds in newspapers causing a rapid decline in profit.

The growth of Internet news and social media also caused  massive changes in the news industry in Australia. As the Internet became more popular for adverts and ebay and similar sites stole much of the content from the newspaper classified sections.

The newspapers responded by laying off reporters and journalists, merging with other newspapers until there are only a couple left owned by wealthy conservative plutocrats with strong political party affiliations. They began producing more outrageous front page stories to attract readers back. They became much more blatantly partisan and full of more extreme viewpoints that were often factually false.

The TV channels followed suit presenting politically biased comment and often totally false stories such as on Fox news in the USA. Fox News can be considered a main stream mass media conservative propaganda site.

Mass media outlets in the USA are classified these days by political affiliation and what percentage of their stories are true or false.  As a consequence fact checking sites began to appear as people realised that many of the stories and statements from politicians are biased, erroneous or just plain lies.

Australia’s level of media ownership concentration is one of the highest in the world with a majority of distribution controlled by a pro-conservative government aligned  Rupert Murdoch .

Murdoch publications such as the Australian, the Telegraph and Courier Mail excel in publishing misinformation from the right wing shock jocks like Andrew Bolt and compulsive liars like Tony Abbot, without challenging the factual accuracy of them, allowing misinformation and confusion to reign.  They only rarely publish any alternative viewpoints.  This can’t be good for us.

It seems that we are living in a post truth world where we must be truly sceptical of anything we read as we are being swamped by everything from sneaky, spin-doctored viewpoints to blatantly false stories. A good example is the misinformation industry around climate change which has grown huge from support by large energy companies like Exxon,  wealthy fossil fuel barons and mining oligarchs.

Most people are not stupid but many may be ignorant and it isn’t bliss. It’s simply the lack of valid truthful knowledge on a particular subject or area.  If your mind is filled with reliable factual information then you can make more reliable decisions on how it might affect you and your family. On the other hand if you are influenced by false information then you are more likely to make less reliable decisions.

Polls show that trust in the main stream media whether it is newspapers or TV news has dropped substantially.   Many are seeking to get most of their news from the Internet but this leads to the media echo chamber problem.  So how do we tell the factually correct news from the false news?

The solution is to be sceptical and critical.  Cultivate a circle of friends and special interest groups with divergent points of view. Fact Check ALL political statements using a reliable independent fact checking site preferably NOT one funded by any political think tank, government or commercial organisation.

Check all scientific statements with a reputable scientific association.  Use the Wikipedia to expand your science knowledge.  Don’t trust information from political think tanks, it’s generally politically biased.  Use Carl Sagan’s Baloney Detector Kit.

You don’t have to agree with everyone but the diversity of points of view, a little research and a good dose of scepticism should give you a reasonably good chance to sort the truth from bullshit and make life a little easier in the post truth world.

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by Des Pensable copyright 2015

A whistle blower has revealed the most amazing story about genetic research being carried out by researchers at the secret Harvard University Military Research facility located somewhere on the campus.

The research brief was to produce a simple vaccination that could be used to make US soldiers smarter and more robust to enable them to survive the approaching Global Warming apocalypse.

Monsanto have already patented new economic plant varieties including wheat and corn that will grow in warmer drier climates and animals with modified genetic code allowing them to be resistant to higher temperatures expected in the world of the near future.

So the scientists at Monsanto decided that it was time to try and make a product that could modify people to improve their adaption to higher climates as it was likely that the politicians would be unable to reach a consensus on mitigating Global warming until it was too late.

It appears that a large medical team have been carrying out research into the use of an injectable attenuated virus that could be used to carry DNA gene clusters relating to specific human characteristics such as aggression, muscle mass and intelligence and had some remarkable success.

The researchers also claim that it is the first vaccination of its type to by fully composed of natural ingredients and contain no artificial colour, preservatives, radionuclides or mercury.

Initial tests in animal models showed the concept worked but the surprises came when they started using the vaccine that was theoretically capable of increasing the analytical functioning of the neocortex, which basically means making the test subjects more intelligent.

The first test subjects were monkeys and the researchers used various intelligence tests including tactical and strategy simulations such as playing chess. The surprise came that after the first vaccination the monkeys chess ability improved out of sight and the monkeys were able to beat the best of the human players after a couple of months.

One monkey was able to simultaneously play against four humans and beat them all. A few weeks later there was an apparent break in by animal rights protesters and all the monkeys escaped and have not been seen since. Security was tightened at the facility but nobody has yet been arrested as the military police are still puzzled as to how the animal rights people gained access to the facility.

The vaccination was also tried on dolphins at the US Naval Dolphin Research facility at Pearl Harbour where they have been training dolphins to carry explosive charges to enemy submarines and detonate them. Unfortunately the results of the trial are inconclusive as the animals all disappeared and have not responded to the usual underwater sonic signals to return.

As the vaccination was theoretically safe to use being made of all natural products, a request was put out in the military journal for volunteers. Twenty civic minded mainly Republican voting service men and women were accepted and first measured using a battery of intelligence tests. None were found to suffer any medical problems.

Six months after vaccination the servicemen were due to return for intelligence testing but unfortunately sixteen of them had left the military and joined the Democrats working on mitigation of Global Warming projects. The remaining four were busy studying environmental science at the Military university and apologised for not being able to make it. So at this stage the results are unknown.

The researchers requested that another larger group of several hundred be vaccinated but the commander of the unit cautioned that it would be advisable to wait until they could get the results from the first group before expanding the study. The unit commander was a little concerned that there might have been some relationship between the vaccination and such a large number of people quitting the military.

On a humorous note, the researchers have a pet parrot in the laboratory where the studies were carried out. It’s believed that it may have been inadvertently exposed to the vaccine. The bird has developed an incredible vocabulary of expletives which it uses constantly when any of the researchers go near it.

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This story is a hoax story and a satire. These type of conspiracy stories are generally written to reinforce people’s biases against some target. They are very common on main stream news. The target here is Monsanto, vaccination and animal testing and Global Warming. The start of the story is feasible, a whistle blower, secret military research on a well known university campus, global warming, a few medical science words. The scene is set.

The vaccine is only made from natural ingredients with no artificial colors. Really? How does this make it work? The vaccination accidentally makes the monkey super smart. One monkey can now outplay four humans then they work out a way to escape confounding their military jailers.   Very little in science is accidental. This is very highly unlikely.

They vaccinated dolphins. You have got to be kidding! The dolphins escaped never to return. Doubtful. They vaccinated 20 Republican soldiers. What has the soldiers voting or their civic duty got to do with volunteering to be a guinea pig. The suggestion is  that Republican voting soldiers are stupid.

After vaccination most of them became much smarter and joined the Democrats working on mitigation of Global warming. We could wish for this but miracles like this don’t happen. The parrot bit at the end was purposely humorous to give you a good feeling at the end.

A good story worth believing will have lots of reference links to other stories, it will name real people at reputable organisations that you can check to ensure they exist. A genuine science story will not mention religion or politics. A satire Is generally written to ridicule someone or some organisation. They are common in politics and religion. They will generally not give reference links and if they do they will generally be fake.

Another hoax story I wrote on April fools day a few years ago. Everyone I sent it to believed it because they wanted to believe in it and I generally write factually true stories. The moral is be skeptical. Use critical thinking. Be aware of the Appeal to Authority fallacy.

You can learn more on how to tell real stories from fake ones here and here.

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You can also find other stories and satires at www.despensable .com.au