Tag Archives: media bubbles

The Disinformation Industry

A couple of days ago, the Washington Post published a review of “Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos” by Peter Bergen.The review was very positive; while the reviewer acknowledged that Bergen hadn’t told us anything that hadn’t previously been reported, he was impressed with the book’s readability and clarity.

From the moment Trump strutted into the Oval Office, we have been buried by an avalanche of jaw-dropping revelations about what happens when an unhinged, cynical and impulsive commander in chief bumps up against professionalism, decency and the rule of law. So when opening a new book promising still more inside stories of Trump’s foreign policy, it is hard to expect an author to say anything new — especially when the book was written before the impeachment drama started. Perhaps the best one can hope for is something that helps put this craziness in perspective and lays out the stakes for the future.

The book is another addition to the reams of credible reporting and a veritable avalanche of previous books of widely varying quality, accuracy and readability. It’s hard to conceive how even the most politically disinterested American could fail to hear about the frenzied, ungrammatical tweets, the cozying up to autocrats, the insults to our allies, the threats to the environment…

Sane citizens are left to wonder why his supporters don’t seem to care. The answer is evidently that they don’t believe any of it. It’s all “fake news,” fostered by a cottage industry of disinformation and propaganda.

As the House Judiciary Committee convened Friday to approve articles of impeachment against President Trump, a watch party got underway in a private Facebook group that rallies its more than 75,000 members around the banner, “THE TRUMP DEPLORABLES.”

The comments that streamed forth in the group illustrate how Trump’s most ardent supporters have fashioned alternative realities for themselves — as well as for Republican lawmakers aiming to turn the charge of corruption back on those investigating the president.

The feed — from Fox News, a major source of news for the president’s supporters — showed the same scene available to viewers tuning in on various networks all over the country. But in the online enclave where the self-described “deplorables” had gathered to watch the committee vote, Democrats are the lawbreakers who “should be impeached,” as one viewer wrote. Trump’s word is truth. And the federal employees who question his version of events are not just mistaken, they are “scum,” as Trump labeled members of the intelligence community at a rally this week in Hershey, Pa.

The antics of the Republicans during the committee deliberations were off-putting and clownish to reasonable viewers, but they made perfect sense to Trumpers following live on social media,” in groups sealed off from general scrutiny, where facts are established by volume, and confirmation comes from likes.”

The effect of social media is to jack up the tenor of everything,” said Carl Cameron, who spent more than two decades as a reporter for Fox News before leaving in 2017. This year, he helped found Front Page Live, a liberal news aggregation site. “There’s a statement made by a witness, or an interaction with a lawmaker, and users are able to put together a counternarrative in real time.”

Cameron described the live comment streams as laboratories of right-wing talking points, most likely to attract viewers who already share a certain bias. These viewers are unlikely to change their minds, and thus shift opinion polling on impeachment, which has remained relatively stable.

But the talking points are then exported through other channels, he added, and eventually reach persuadable voters. Social media, he said, does not just echo but serves as an “amplifier, with powerful cross-pollination on the different platforms, until the talk eventually reaches the office water cooler or coffee machine, or the Thanksgiving table.”

I keep coming back to the incredible danger posed by a media environment that no longer produces a shared reality–a fragmented environment enabled by the Internet where partisans and lunatics alike can live in bubbles of their own creation, detached from those pesky things we used to call “facts.”

I lay awake worrying about the size of the alternate reality population, because when reality bites, it will bite us all.