I have a friend whom I cherish who loathes Donald Trump, but who thinks that Trump’s missteps with Taiwan were actually a good thing. My friend’s sole hope for Trump is that he will follow through with some of his campaign rhetoric and address China’s predatory trade practices. For my friend, Trump’s blunder — and he calls it that — has burst the bubble of “disingenuous and silly” lies that the Chinese have taken advantage of for thirty years.
I don’t know nearly enough about our economic relationship with China to be entitled to have an opinion about it, but even if it was good to pierce the mutual fiction about the relationship of the two Chinas (I’d put scare quotes around one of those two words, but I can’t figure out which), it’s not good to do so with no plan or strategy. Trump sent a strong, consequential signal to China that is only de-stabilizing. In fact, Trump then denied that it was a signal at all when, in the face of criticism, he tweeted that Taiwan “called ME!”. So, the phone call was merely ignorant, pointless destabilization that Trump then destabilized.
My friend likes the idea that the phone call destroyed a fictitious international relationship. But blowing up a relationship simply because it is disingenuous and silly is not necessarily a good thing in itself. The world’s constituencies are so different in their interests and understandings that we often can only maintain a difficult peace by finding language structurally ambiguous enough — each side knows that the other means something different by it — that we are not forced to bring an irresolvable disagreement to an unambiguous resolution.
None of this touches my friend’s larger and more important point about the possibility that Trump could address China’s predatory economic practices. Even Cheeto Hitler might get something right. But not this time or in this way.
Because fake news only works if it captures our attention, and because presenting ideas that are outside the normal range is a very effective way to capture our attention, fake news will with some inevitably tend to present extreme positions.
Real news items often uses the same technique these days: serious news stories often will have clickbait headlines. “Clickbait, whether fake or real, thus tends to make us think that the world is full of extremes. The normal doesn’t seem very normal any more.”Clickbait, whether fake or real, thus tends to make us think that the world is full of extremes. The normal doesn’t seem very normal any more.
Of course, clickbait is nothing new. Tabloids have been using it forever. For the past thirty years, in the US, local TV stations have featured the latest stabbing or fire as the lead story on the news. (This is usually said to have begun in Miami
, and is characterized as “If it bleeds, it leads,” i.e., it is the first item in the news broadcast.)
At the same time, however, the Internet makes it easier than ever to find news that doesn’t simply try to set our nerves on fire. Fact checking abounds, at sites dedicated to the task and as one of the most common of distributed Internet activities. Even while we form echo chambers that reinforce our beliefs, “we are also more likely than ever before to come across contrary views”we are also more likely than ever before to come across contrary views. Indeed, I suspect (= I have no evidence) that one reason we seem so polarized is that we can now see the extremities of belief that have always been present in our culture — extremities that in the age of mass communication were hidden from us.
Now that there are economic reasons to promulgate fake news — you can make a good living at it — we need new mechanisms to help us identify it, just as the rise of “native advertising” (= ads that pose as news stories) has led to new norms about letting the reader know that they’re ads. The debate we’re currently having is the discussion that leads to new techniques and norms.
Some of the most important techniques can best be applied by the platforms through which fake news promulgates. We need to press those platforms to do the right thing, even if it means a marginal loss of revenues for them. The first step is to stop them from thinking, as I believe some of them genuinely do, that they are mere open platforms that cannot interfere with what people say and share on them. Baloney. As Zeynep Tufekci, among others, has repeatedly pointed out, these platforms already use algorithms to decide which items to show us from the torrent of possibilities. Because the major Western platforms genuinely hold to democratic ideals, they may well adjust their algorithms to achieve better social ends. I have some hope about this.
Just as with spam, “native advertising,” and popup ads, we are going to have to learn to live with fake news both by creating techniques that prevent it from being as effective as it would like to be and by accepting its inevitability. If part of this is that we learn to be more “meta” — not accepting all content at its face value — then fake news will be part of our moral and intellectual evolution.
Mike Ananny [twitter: ananny] had to guest-lecture a class about media, communications and news on Nov. 9. He recounts the session with an implicit sense of wonder that we can lift our head up from the dirt after that giant Monty Python jackboot dropped on us.
It’s a reminder that step by step, we’ll make some progress back to where we were and then beyond.
Hillary Clinton: Thank you. Thank you all so much. It’s wonderful to be here. And before I speak, I want to let you know that this is a very special day. Before I talk, I’m going to bring out a guest you’re not expecting, who will make history. And how you greet him will help shape that history So, I ask you to greet this guest with open hearts and open minds, and embrace him for the courage and true patriotism he’s going to show you this morning. Ladies and gentlemen, please warmly welcome … Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Paul Ryan.
Paul Ryan enters to shocked applause. Shakes Clinton’s hand and goes to lectern
Paul Ryan: I bet you did not see that coming. Tell you the truth, neither did I.
1. Granted, this is just an instant poll with a margin of error of 99 on a scale of 1 to Wishful Thinking , but I’ll take it:
A CNN quick poll found 71 percent of those who watched [Hillary’s] speech had an extremely favorable view of her. Last week, CNN’s poll found 57 percent of those who watched Trump’s speech had an extremely favorable view of him.
2. On Night #2, the Dems had 25M viewers while on the comparable night the Reps had 19M. I was surprised by this, given that Trump is an eye-magnet train wreck.
4. This may be a teensy bit subjective, but this was by far the best convention in my lifetime. It’s changed what it means to be a Democrat, and retrieved what it means to be American.
If all you knew of America was what you saw during these four days, you would think it is a place that not just celebrates but proudly draws upon its deep diversity. And you would be forgiven if you concluded that its surest moral compass is held by people — and especially women — of color.
5. It’s not just that we had four days of astounding talks. Taken together, those days were a work of art in their balance and contrasts, their crescendos and their moments of silence. Remarkable, and remarkably moving.
So, now we can all lean back and let this thing just happen by itself get to work!
On Reddit, user Amaranthine cites a tweet from Soniasaraiya that points to a signal that one of Melania’s speechwriters may be a mole working against the Trump campaign: Was Melania rickrolled?
Rickrolling is a prank in which misleading text links to a video of Rick Astley singing his 1987 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” For example, if I wrote “Here’s an incredible secret video of Hillary whispering to Bill that she lied about Benghazi,” and you click on the link, you’ve been rickrolled.” The video has been viewed over 224 million times, but no one knows how many times on purpose. (Interestingly, Rick Astley seems to have plagiarized the song from this awkward amateur version.)
This not such a unique, unexpected turn of phrase that it could only have been plagiarized. On the other hand: 224,238,266 views! This is the opposite of obscure.
So, if you were the speechwriter who not only put plagiarized text into Melania Trump’s introduce-yourself-to-America speech, but you took that text from Michelle Obama’s introduce-yourself-to-America speech eight years earlier, you might well want to flag that Melania’s speech rickrolled us and her: Melania’s words, uttered sincerely, turn out to “link” to an annoyingly lightweight pop song.
Just for fun, here’s an autotuned version of Melania singing her lyrics, created by redditor cbuntz: