Well folks, I didn’t really think I would write about the US Presidential election but the past year and a half have been so crazy that I got to the point that I just could not ignore it any longer.
I’ve really not been ignoring the process (who could in a CNN world) but I have not felt the need to comment until recently. It seems to me that the direction the campaign has taken has created the need for people the world over to wake up and have a look at what is going on.
The Real Start of the Information Age
Back in 2008, just one year and change from the release of the iPhone, Barack Obama used the internet as a very effective tool in his quest for the White House. The internet approach allowed Mr. Obama to raise huge (later to become yuge) amounts of money from millions of small donors across the country. Beyond this use, the internet was not yet really seen as news as most people still watched television or read newspapers to educate themselves about what was happening in the world. Things have changed drastically since 2008.
Apple has recently released the iPhone 7 and the information age is upon us. The ability to find “information” has been delivered into the hands of all reasonably intelligent people around the world. Along with the availability of information comes the other side of this ability, the possibility of creating digital media and sharing it globally – this is powerful. As an example, through the power of the internet, I can write something like I am currently doing and publish it globally at the touch of a button. I admit that my followers are not numerous, however I have the ability to spread information with almost no resources invested – I am just sitting in my living room and writing – it is that simple.
The power I have just described has now become a big player in many things and has arrived in a big way in the US election campaign. The ability to share information freely by nearly anyone allows information sharing that has a specifically designed purpose, and often a nefarious purpose, to be done easily and daily – it is the dream of propaganda artists. We has always suspected that advertising tries to sneak up on us and cause us to buy things that we really don’t need. This fear is now everywhere – allowing nearly anyone to sneak up on us and deliver information directly to us that will cause us to change our behavior.
There are many ways that this power has been used in the US election campaign and in a world where most people do not really use their own judgment about things it is even more powerful. Take, for example, Donald Trump’s assertion that Mexicans are pouring into the US and are criminals as well as people “who will take your job”. The actual statistics on this exact situation are the opposite. The flow of Mexican people from the US back to Mexico is now greater than the number of Mexican people coming to the US. Also, the rate of crime perpetrated by Mexican illegal immigrants in the US is much lower than the crime rate in the US in general. These real statistics prove that illegal immigration, although something that should be improved upon, is not really a big concern for Americans. Trump has used his made-up stats however to create fear in Americans of people who look like they may be from Mexico. Trump has no fear, he lives in an ivory tower and meets no one who is not hand selected. His goal however is simply to use that fear to get people to vote for him for a job that he cannot do, simply because he wants to say that he has the biggest job in the world. Another example of the stories that Trump invents for his purpose is his characterization of inner cities as terrible places that have no hope but for him to fix them. Of course Trump has never been to what he calls the “inner cities” but that makes no difference to him. The Trump campaign knows that over 80% of the US population is white and if he can stir up a mistrust of Black folks in White folks he might get more votes. His thinking is this simple and cynical – he could not care less about the impact as long as it might increase his vote.
Once we realize that the power exists to create whatever information we like and share it globally for whatever purpose we might have the creation of information starts to happen in earnest. I have included an example here to show you. In this case, teenagers in a tiny village in an Eastern European country who have no interest whatsoever in US politics create fake information for sharing on Facebook because they know it will be shared widely and they can make money from the clicks. It sounds outrageous but it makes perfect sense – they want to make money, they can easily this way and therefore they do. This also works for the Trump campaign because they have no concern about what is said as long as it harms the Democrats and increases Trump’s chance of winning.
This brings me to the third piece of this massaging of information that I see in this campaign. We have all known for years that certain news organizations may favour one political party over another as this often shows itself in the editorial pages. This, I believe, is perfectly ok for those of us who realize that the editorial pages are the right place for opinion, that way leaving the news reporting as simply that – the news with bias.
During this campaign, part of the misinformation being spread, mostly by the Trump campaign, is that the news media is corrupt at best and part of the “system corruption controlled by the Clinton’s” at worst. According to the Trump campaign, you should never get your information from the “main-stream media” as they are all controlled by the “system” and are all out to defeat Trump (the only person who can save the US from the corrupt “world order”). In this way, the Trump campaign encourages people to seek out alternative sources of information that are measured for value as good if they support Trump or are critical of Clinton. There is no concern about whether the information is true or not – that does not matter to the campaign.
Where do we go from here?
This election will be over in three days and in all likelihood Clinton will win but where does that leave us going forward? By the time the 2020 US Presidential election comes around the value of creating false information will have been realized and very-much improved. In 2016 we have crazy websites (like Breitbart News and Eagle Rising) that produce National-Enquirer type information that can quite easily be identified as false by reasonably intelligent people but by 2020 there will be sites that create sophisticated, designed information for nefarious purposes that will be difficult to differentiate from real news. We are going to need more sophisticated ways of sorting out the bad potatoes if we are going to be assured of good information.
I don’t know where the ability to sort the false information from the good information will come from however I am reminded once again of the importance of professional reporters who seek out real news, often at great expense to themselves. Often news reporters lose their lives trying to get good information for us in a propaganda world.
I know that going forward I will be much more careful of where I get my information and I hope that all of you will do the same. We cannot leave control of the world we live in to the intellectually lazy and the charlatans.