The Decline of News Media Truth
Since around 1440, when German blacksmith Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, for more than five hundred years, news were printed on paper. The technology allows the black ink for the text to penetrate deep into the porous paper in hundreds of thousands of copies. Compared to contemporary high technology communicated digital media, that was a primitive manufacturing of newspapers. But it has one essential advantage: because once printed, the text was inerasable, and because newspapers were supposed to be kept in public libraries forever, both news writers and editors prepared the contents with great care and responsibility and signed the articles with their real names. It was a generally observed practice in case something turned out to be wrong after the newspaper was distributed, a correction note garnished with sincere apologies would be published in its next issue.
Even during the ideological confrontation of the Cold War certain objectivity rules were kept. Like in the famous anecdote about a running competition between the American President and the Soviet leader that was won by the American: the next day Soviet newspapers informed their readers that in this historic sports event the Soviet leader won the silver, and the American president finished last but one. A beautiful example of brutal misrepresentation of the real event, but with objective facts still kept intact.
Not anymore. Now there are no rules protecting the reliable information in news media. The disregard of truth in manipulative media in the last years soared to levels that allow some media stories to qualify for weapons of hybrid war. And in the same way in which abandoning the gold standard monetary system destabilized the substance of money, abandoning media truth standard degrades our trust in the news we watch every day and exposes us to aggressive digital mixtures of bright colored pieces of non-truth, images of basic level appeal, tailor-made sets of advertising entertainment and political manipulation.
The general reason is that our human society, which is still functioning in tribal mode, cannot adequately manage the consequences of its exponentially advancing technology.
The diverging trends of productivity and hourly compensation created and continue to create clusters of excess money in huge volumes. Most of it is reinvested in business and finance, or spent on luxury villas, yachts, cars and expensive hobbies, but a certain portion of the excess money is transformed into political money. And many of the owners of political money have the strange hobby of trying to influence the thinking of other people by violating their right of information. The current state of affairs is a paradoxical example how technological advance in a world dominated by tribal thinking can contribute to the civilizational devolution of humanity.
In our deeply politicized world mass media has become an integral part of tribal clusters that are funded by political money. Following the agenda of the tribe represented, every nanosecond TV and radio stations, news media, interactive components of social media etc. discharge into the digital media space significantly distorted and aggressively conflicting images of reality. Normal people, who deserve to know the truth, informationally exist in a battlefield where powerful tribal propaganda machines are fighting each other. With all the consequences of humans degrading into civilizationally dysfunctional individuals with inadequate attitudes on fundamental issues essential to their own social existentiality. This grave civilizational problem is not remaining unnoticed by high profile figures of the journalistic and media circles, and the recent presentation “Truth and Reality in a Hyper-Connected World” by Katharine Viner, Editor-in-chief, Guardian News, is just one of the series.
The sad reality is that instead of providing the public with reliable information, contemporary news media evolved into highly efficient technological hybrids of two mythological creatures: the Sirens that attract us to come closer so that they can grab our hearts and hand us over to the Gorgons – to petrify our minds.
In Greek Mythology, Sirens are beautiful winged human like creatures who can hypnotize people with their songs. They were dangerous yet beautiful creatures, who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island.
Gorgons were a popular image in Greek mythology with powerful gaze that could turn one to stone.
Brewing Rogue Democracy
By failing to inform the public in a comprehensive, objective and unbiased way news media deprive citizens of access to reliable information and severely affect their individual capacities as voters to make clear political decisions at elections. This is a violation of human rights that can paralyze the functioning of human civilization’s most inherent achievement – democracy. If public has no guaranteed access to reliable comprehensive information we risk to enter new type of dark ages – rogue democracy. And this would be a major setback for humankind in transition from tribal into civilizational thinking.
People being diverse is the greatest treasure of human civilization. With each and everyone of us having different biological and social circumstances, each and everyone of us is predetermined to have his own unique, firmly grounded and undeniably legitimate version of truth: “Scientific thinking means that if we are faced with a problem, we approach it without preconceived ideas and sentiments like fear, greed and hatred. We approach it with a cool head and collect data which we eventually try to fit together. This is all there is to it. It may sound simple and easy. What makes it difficult is the fact that our brain is not made to search for truth; it is but another organ of survival, like fangs, or claws. So the brain does not search for truth, but for advantage, and it tries to make us accept as truth what only self-interest is allowing our thoughts to be dominated by our desires.” Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, Nobel Prize winner 1937 (Physiology or Medicine)
But if we cannot trust one human brain about what is true, how can we trust numerous human brains in a like-minded group or common interest motivated tribe about what is true? And to add some passion to the tranquil theme of truth: we are very diverse also because we love different things. As G. M. Chesterton noted, “You can’t love a thing without wanting to fight for it.” That completes the bigger picture about the primary problem of a humanity in transition from tribal thinking into civilizational thinking: We know we are all different, we like the reality that we are all different, but we haven’t still designed the societal model where diverse people can live together without violence. We are yet to discover the Universal Future.
At this point of time we are left with no other choice but to admit:
Truth is just another issue of fundamental importance to human civilization that cannot be resolved by humans themselves because of the conflicting legitimate interests of the existing individuals and tribes which are composed of those same humans.
Thus formulated, the conundrum sounds irresolvable enough to stop us from trying further.
But we should still try one more path: Artificial Intelligence.
Recent breakthrough in two key sectors of information processing could change the rules of the game:
One is that the cohesion of big data processing with machine learning algorithms made possible for contemporary machine learning programs to follow in real time multiple sources and sort the data simultaneously; to analyze huge volumes of big data in dimensions that bring the degree of accuracy and of predicted extrapolations by orders higher than the levels at which decisions are being made now through our “classic” methods; through advanced machine learning to input seamlessly and in real time newly available data entries into the big data analytical process without disturbing the logical correlations.
The second factor is the exponential dynamics in which sources of primary information develop in both arsenal and precision. “Over the next decade, the market-driven explosion of surveillance sensors and data analytics will bring an unprecedented level of transparency to global affairs. Commercial satellites will capture daily images of the entire globe, offering inexpensive and automated reports on everything from crop yields to military activity. Journalists, NGOs, and bloggers will increasingly use crowdsourced data to uncover wartime atrocities and expose government hypocrisy. Private security companies will discover the sources of cyberattacks and data theft. Biometric systems will expose the identities of clandestine operatives, and government agencies will struggle to contain leakers and whistleblowers.” – writes Sean P. Larkin in “The Age of Transparency – International Relations Without Secrets”.
If international relations, one of the most sensitive areas of human activity, notorious also for its James Bond style clandestine operations, has the chance to become transparent, then we have enough ground for optimism in practically all spheres of journalism and news stories objectivity.
The above technological achievements take us very close to accomplishing one of humankind’s greatest dreams:
The Truth project
Imagine a global news exchange that compiles and analyzes big data bases about political, economic, financial, military, humanitarian etc. processes which are continuously present in the radar of public interest; with algorithms that can execute verification of events and fact check its details in real time; that are authorized to issue dynamic truth certificates on the measurable parameters of any news story; that are capable to assess and endorse sources of reliable information, and to black mark attempts for disinformation and manipulation. To mention just a few of the features defending the Temple of Truth.
A global news exchange vehicle that will very quickly evolve into a coherent database for public reference, functioning on a transparent code. Which would be a great advantage against commercially or otherwise dependent search machines. Including Google.
Artificial Intelligence could become the Guardian of Truth against manipulative media.
Because you have the right to demand The Truth.