09 January 2016

Outrage


I repeated on twitter a point I've made before:

I consider local stories from far away as none of my business and refuse to consider them

It was a response to bswud talking about the "Clock Boy" story / hoax



If someone were actually concerned to assess a situation accurately and respond with appropriate action, individual outrages, such as Clock Boy or Tamir Rice, would not be of any use. Instead, you would need actual statistics of how often various kinds of event occurred. Selecting only newsworthy events for your data set would be counterproductive.

Imagine a machine learning algorithm trained only on the outliers; this is your brain on news media.


There are two problems with ignoring outrage stories in favour of statistics. The obvious one is that statistics do not arouse the general public in the way outrage stories do. So, if your intent is propaganda rather than assessing the situation, statistics are less useful. The second problem is that statistics are more obviously mediated by others who may or may not be trustworthy than anecdotes are.  What the stories above suggest is that outrage stories are in reality no more likely to be accurate than published statistics, but it doesn't feel that way. You are always conscious that a statistic is potentially suspect, but a story of a reported event feels more like a fact than a claim, even though you read it from the same page as the statistic.

To emphasize, the real problem with outrage porn is not that it is not true. Reasoning based on selected outrage stories would be wrong even if they were all true and accurately reported. They are less akin to lies, and more akin to Frankfurterian "bullshit", in that it is irrelevant to the purposes for which they are used whether they are true or not.


For now, propaganda by outrage story is working, but the tenuous link between outrage and truth, because it is not a fundamental requirement of the process, can be completely broken. This seems to be what some on the WN side have undertaken to do:


Outrage stories are, necessarily, retailed and commented on without scrutiny, actual scrutiny being impractical. But there is still a widespread assumption that, while slanted reporting and hoaxes happen, most stories (or at least, most stories that are useful to my propaganda purposes) are somewhat true.  That assumption can be attacked by flooding social media with false stories. If the public doesn't know what to believe, and is unable to ever find out what is actually going on in some town a thousand miles away, and aware of that inability, then they would actually be better-informed than they are now.



As a postscript, do note that outrage porn is common across the political spectrum. Cologne New Year's Eve is outrage porn.

If I do comment on outrage porn, what I am interested in is patterns of reporting. Not the truth, or even the relationship of the reporting to the truth (since I don't know the truth), but the way reports are promoted or suppressed, and their relationships with each other. It is interesting that the Cologne story was kept quiet for a week, then escaped and became major (but not dominating) news. It is interesting that the BBC quoted a police officer one day that police said the attackers were mainly migrants carrying migrant papers, and reported the following day that there was no evidence they were migrants. If I draw conclusions from outrage porn, I am looking for conclusions that are independent of the validity of the reporting.

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