Misinformatics

“Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance,”
George Bernard Shaw

This is an idea on the media and its ability to get away with giving us misleading information on a daily basis.  This information could be harmful to us, yet some read it like it’s gospel truth and some even go further; changing their behaviors, ideas and even beliefs over it.  Stories like the MMR Vaccine Controversy from 1998 may now be causing harm because some have decided not to get their children vaccinated.  Plus with the rise in social media and instant news, the misinformation is delivered to us quicker and simpler.  And day after day there are news articles being criticized for their information, but never held for any real account for the harm they have done.  On social media sites, we are given a snippet of the information on the article and some decide an opinion without looking for more information, or the counter argument.  It is a part of our new culture.  Everything quick and in snippets.  Not the full story, we are just given a simplified version, when the stories are actually a lot more complex.

At the center of this idea are the journalists.  Journalists helped show us corruption in the past, Watergate is a prime example of this.  The scandal that broke over Richard Nixon’s bugging escapades in 1972, were investigated by two men in particular, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post.  They discovered through their work, information suggesting that a cover up lay within the story of the burglary at the Watergate Hotel.  Their sources, one famously known as “Deep throat,” led them to the Justice Department, FBI, CIA, and the White House and the eventual impeachment of Nixon.

Watergate Woodward And BernsteinHere is an interview with Bernstein and Woodward.

As scandal after scandal surfaced by the journalist, we began to see them as a force for good and those who we could trust to give us the facts on the matter.  As this happened.  The news media began to move more and more into different territory, beyond politics and social issues and toward topics such as science.

Fox News struggling with the moon

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In 1998, The Lancet medical journal published a paper stating that the MMR vaccination had a direct link to autism.  Andrew Wakefield, held a press conference before the papers publishing to talk about his discoveries.  At first the press didn’t really jump on the story as it was a minor study.  However, in 2001 and 2002, Wakefield published more papers saying the combined vaccination was unsafe, but with no new evidence.  However, the news media went with it and reported anecdotal evidence as facts and suddenly there was panic.  The British public went as far as demanding that Prime Minister Tony Blair reveal whether his youngest son Leo had been given the vaccine.

The problem was, the paper was a fraud.

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A CNN report on the turn on information.

Wakefield had a number of conflict of interests.  He applied for patents on a rival vaccine to the MMR, he received money from lawyers to help parents who believed their children had been affected by the jab prior to the publication.  Finally by 2010, The Lancet fully retracted the publication and described the paper as “totaly flawed.”  Wakefield was struck off the register.  But the news media has moved onto other stories with no real consequence for the hysteria they have caused.   Even though papers have shown how influential they were in spreading the lie without real in-depth research.

In this period rose a great number of “commentators” claiming to be “experts.” These shadowy figures are not held to account for what they tell us, no matter how harmful the information may have been. We are also being subjected to these days, public opinion and feelings on a matter as facts.

 Dr. Ben Goldacre on “Bad Science,” in the media.

Ben Goldacre

At the same time, social media sites on the internet became more popular.  The chat rooms and messenger software of the late 1990s and turn of the century, had evolved into a space of self expression, information and online socializing.  Information could be quickly shared through sites as Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and others.  This took on a new and exciting form when we started to see uprisings, apparently fueled by social media.

The revolutions that took place between 2009 and 2013, which also became known as the Twitter revolutions, were apparently fed by social media.  The news reported to us time and again that the regime had been toppled and the people were free of tyranny.  Ex leaders fled for their lives or were served mob justice.  This gave us a good feeling.  A feeling of empowerment, that through the freedom on the internet, we could mobilize against any injustice and fight it.

The problem we face today with this easy and quick access to information and rolling news is, before facts are clarified, the information is half way around the world.  And people spread the news, thinking that they are doing good; reporting to their friends and communities that something has been reported to give you cancer, or that there is a rapist or child abuser somewhere before the facts and trial have come to determine truth, or guilt.

Still today circulate memes and articles saying the MMR jab causes autism and that we should not immunize our children, and there is a strident group of people around the world who have come to believe it’s now a conspiracy, and that there are more dangers in vaccines than we are told.  Even though these are not credible sources and the Wakefield papers have been collectively agreed as fraudulent, this group still believes in some kind of cover up, and this information is continually shared across the social media world as facts.

This is an article I came across last year by Alex Jone’s site Infowars.

http://www.infowars.com/how-the-us-government-admits-vaccines-cause-autism/

This doesn’t just seem to infect science anymore.  Political and social issues are also being commentated on by “experts” and we see the news media creating harm here.  Last year saw a rolling stone article expand into something quite chilling.  A girl named “Jackie” had alleged she had been gang raped at the University of Virginia by seven men at a fraternity house.  Through social media this article was shared and more news media jumped on the story.  The word spread and the students and people were outraged.  The house was picketed, vandalized and the students eventually suspended without evidence.

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However the claims began to unravel shortly after as inconsistencies began to show in the story Jackie told the police, her friends and the different news media outlets she spoke to.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/u-va-fraternity-to-rebut-claims-of-gang-rape-in-rolling-stone/2014/12/05/5fa5f7d2-7c91-11e4-84d4-7c896b90abdc_story.html

However, even though Jackie is generally not believed now, mob justice was served to innocent people before the whole story could be looked at and judged.  The journalists we trust to inform us of the world around us, are as faulty as you and I and continue to publish fallacies without looking at the whole issue.

If we allow ourselves to blindly believe the news media straight away, before a real understanding of a topic, we are vulnerable to mob justice.  If we can come together as the people did in the Twitter Revolutions, but instead over misinformation, that could be dangerous.  Or misinformation on the MMR jab has lead to a rise in measles in children as some parents have decided not to get their children vaccinated.

However, we people are not held to the same regard.  Politicians have to be careful what they say or they may be ousted.  Public figures and celebrities are attacked for changing their minds and opinions.  Yet the ones we have come to trust to empower us with knowledge, can get away with it and though on occasion, be a force for good, if the information delivered is wrong or misleading, the results could be devastating.

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Muhammad, the Final Frontier . . . .

On July 1st 2001, Comedy Central did something it has never done since.  It aired an episode of South Park which depicted the Muslim prophet Muhammad as part of a league of religious icons called the Super Best Friends.  At the time there was little reaction to the cartoon or the image of Muhammad, and no one thought any threat was real.

In just over 2 months this all changed… The image below is a video link to that dreadful day…

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Caption : businessinsider.com

The September 11th attacks were something not witnessed in our modern time.  Although the idea of killing ones self for martyrdom in the past had been done, the scale of the attacks on 9/11 were something not witnessed in the US since Pearl Harbor.

With these attacks came a new era of control and media change.  We quietly lost freedoms by governments in the name of security (eg. The Patriot Act), while the media barraged us with images and stories of extremist Muslims who wanted any non believer to die.  And so fear mixed with media bias and helped create a new world which was dangerous and confusing, and out of this chaos came a name, Al-Qaeda.

This was the new enemy.  An evil terrorist network that had declared a Jihad on the West and could strike anyone and anywhere.  Public transport, your place of work, and with the Anthrax scare shortly after, even your home.  The problem was, a lot of the stories being reported were inflated by the reporters who were under pressure to give as much information as possible, but had little, or what they were reporting had nothing to do with the new narrative.

A good example of this is the Wall Street Journal which after the Anthrax attacks blamed Al-Qaeda on the attacks with help from Iraq, when in fact it is considered to be a man named, Bruce Edward Ivins a disturbed individual who had told therapists he wanted to kill his co-workers and go out in a blaze of glory.  But this did not fit the narrative, and so slowly became a non-story even though today we are still not 100% sure who did it as Ivins committed suicide in August of 2008 just before the FBI were to lay charges.  But because it was no longer considered a Muslim or part of Al-Qaeda, the story fell in interest and some still believe Al-Qaeda were a part of the plot because they did not get the small reports on what was happening next.

The thing was Al Qaeda was created by the CIA. (Video link below to portion of Adam Curtis’ Power of Nightmares)

Al-Qaeda

In November 2004, on a nice day in Amsterdam a film maker was on his way to work by bicycle.  He had just worked on a movie called Submission with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the female activist and writer.  However, this movie changed that morning.  The film maker, Theo Van Gogh, was shot, had his throat cut, stabbed and then had a note attached to his body with another knife.  The note was a death threat to Hirsi Ali for her “insults” to Islam and Van Gogh had paid with his life for making it.

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This was the turning point that saw freedom of speech under attack, but it was the media that fueled this paranoia about what we could and couldn’t say about Islam.  Nearly everyday we heard reports of Al Qaeda leaders telling us we would be attacked again soon for comments and actions that were inflammatory to them and Islam.  Aid workers were being captured abroad and being beheaded, suicide and car bombs seemed to be going off all over the middle east.  This continued the narrative of an Islamic doom, that was set to drown us all in a sea of hatred.

Here is an interview from the BBCs Newsnight program interviewing Dr. Park Elliot Dietz on the shooting that took place at the Winnenden School in Germany in 2009. Here, clearly the expert asks the media to stop hyping these stories as they impress some people to go and do the same, or something more impressive.

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What I am arguing here is that the media has helped inflate the problem we have with extreme Islamists.  Evil men like Anjem Choudary are constantly given platforms by SKY News and the BBC to help spew his hatred of the west, which makes us feel less attached and more fearful of Muslims and gives any disgruntled narcissist ideas on how to get back at society.

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Now for Charlie Hebdo.  This attack, which was not the first on the French satire magazine, saw a solidarity among writers and cartoonists across the globe to show support for freedom of speech and an end to extremist tyranny.  The Je suis Charlie promo spread the message quickly.

However, I am not sure enough was done.  Although the message was clear, I think it needed more.  I think every cartoonist and media source should have posted a picture of Muhammad, possibly with the famous line.  It didn’t need to be offensive, a simple one like the one I picked from south park would do, but I think that would add more to the message.  That the west believes in freedom of speech.  That we mock everything and everyone and no one is above satire and criticism.  Not even a prophet.

If we can get past this main stream media enticed fear to insult Islam, we will be moving further ahead into a rational age where we no longer fear what might happen to us, but instead say “Fuck you” to those who wish to do us harm in solidarity.  I argue that If we stand united and depict images of the prophet in public, the main stream media will soon follow.

Here is a link to a video I think we should all send to heads of production companies to let them know, it’s time to say no more fear….. ( I couldn’t find the whole speech, but you get my point: See cartoon wars part 2 script near the bottom)

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With love to France

Walter Liisberg

Tragedy + Time = YAWN!

This year saw something exciting happen in the East.  The world watched China as pro democracy protests took place in Hong Kong.  They were asking for Beijing to give them more say in who they voted for, rather than the parties pre selected candidate process.  The world watched to see what would happen.  Tienanmen Square was fresh in peoples minds as the anniversary had come and gone.  They watched and waited for the students to be quashed by Beijing.  Even though a few scuffles took place, the government was not heavy handed in its reaction overall.  It let the students and the people protest.  It allowed them so much so, that in the end the movement lost steam and the people and the media lost interest.  So when eventually the leaders were arrested and the last of the protesters were moved along, there was little coverage, because by then we had lost interest and the media stopped highlighting it.

The same happened with the 99% Occupy movement of 2011-2012.  There was great passion for this movement when it first begun and people believed that maybe we would see change globally toward the rich and maybe some effort to close the inequality gap.  Most governments flip flopped on the issue and didn’t know how to deal with the group.  To send in the police or military would cause more people to sympathize and possibly fuel the protests.  But by doing nothing, they found that movements eventually lose steam and popularity.  By the end of the occupy movement people had forgotten what it was all about, and business returned to normal.

At the end of these movements rather than seeing the police emptying the camps, we are shown what’s left of cleared camps, an image of a dead dream which in turn dampens our spirits and makes us believe we are powerless to change anything, even if we find it unjust.  So in turn, become disillusioned and feel helpless in a world full of complicated problems.

We must formulate new ways to protest which puts real pressure on institutions to listen to dissent.  If we continue to allow our voices to be heard, but not acted upon we may find we have sleep walked into an Orwellian nightmare.

Walter Liisberg

Awaken my Walking Dead!

The News has always played a big part in our lives and in our history.  It has informed us of the terrible, to the incredible.  However, the news has played a big part in portraying people doing worthy things for causes( #this, dump this on my head for that), when actually, all we are doing is patting ourselves on the back for letting something enter our consciousness for a short period of time.

We mean well.  But in most cases we have actually done nothing, and this has made us feel further helpless in an age where trying to change the world for good is a scary and confusing place; with enemies like Assad who we have been told is bad, but now is someone we are helping to keep in power by fighting The Islamic State.

The problem we have is we have been given a world view by the news that is simplified into good and evil.  But there is more to the picture then we have been given.  There are historical problems, religious and ethnic problems which confuse issues more than Good and Evil.

We need to ignore this narrative in the media and teach ourselves more about an issue when it arises.  Maybe look at a short history book of the region or illness being championed, or whatever the problem is.  Educate yourself a little.  This way you can understand more of what is happening.  Like having a jigsaw and understanding more of the picture by putting in a little effort.

If we don’t ignore this narrative the media portrays, I think it will help to continue and evolve this unattached, disillusioned and impotent feeling we have toward the problems in the world.  Because when we trust our knowledge from a source that has simplified a complex problem, to good and bad, the results are as evil as the Islamic State.

Walter Liisberg