Happy 2017 Y’all!
It’s been a sensational start to the year with Trump’s first press conference in six months, the general confusion around the term ‘Fake News’ and Section 40 discussions here in the UK. What an exciting time to be a journalist!
I’ll kick off then with Margaret Sullivan’s campaign to ditch the term ‘Fake News’. This was discussed at the end of 2016 – as a catch-all, the term is rapidly losing meaning and significance:
“The speed with which the term became polarized and in fact a rhetorical weapon illustrates how efficient the conservative media machine has become,” said George Washington University professor Nikki Usher.
As Jeremy Peters wrote in the New York Times: “Conservative cable and radio personalities, top Republicans and even Mr. Trump himself . . . have appropriated the term and turned it against any news they see as hostile to their agenda.”
So, here’s a modest proposal for the truth-based community.
Let’s get out the hook and pull that baby off stage. Yes: Simply stop using it.
Instead, call a lie a lie. Call a hoax a hoax. Call a conspiracy theory by its rightful name. After all, “fake news” is an imprecise expression to begin with.
Elsewhere, Laurie Penny wrote a great call to arms in The New Statesman:
There is a certain kind of stupid mistake that only smart people make, and that is to assume that a sober set of facts can step into the ring with an easy, comforting lie and win. We have entered a new moment in public and political conversation, a moment which many pundits have dubbed the “post truth” age. I prefer to think of it as the age of bullshit.
In the Guardian, Lindsey West wrote an extremely funny and poignant article on why she’s left twitter. I have to admit, I’m still hooked:
I talk back and I am “feeding the trolls”. I say nothing and the harassment escalates. I report threats and I am a “censor”. I use mass-blocking tools to curb abuse and I am abused further for blocking “unfairly”. I have to conclude, after half a decade of troubleshooting, that it may simply be impossible to make this platform usable for anyone but trolls, robots and dictators.
On 29 December, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey tweeted: “What’s the most important thing you want to see Twitter improve or create in 2017?” One user responded: “Comprehensive plan for getting rid of the Nazis.”
“We’ve been working on our policies and controls,” Dorsey replied. “What’s the next most critical thing?” Oh, what’s our second-highest priority after Nazis? I’d say No 2 is also Nazis. And No 3. In fact, you can just go ahead and slide “Nazis” into the top 100 spots. Get back to me when your website isn’t a roiling rat-king of Nazis. Nazis are bad, you see?
Still on the subject of Twitter, The NYT’s Pagan Kennedy wrote about about a group that are flagging to advertisers ads that are being served programmatically on Breitbart News. The team simply screengrab the ad and tag the advertiser in the tweet:
More important, the screenshot activists are forcing companies to pick a side. After pressure from consumers, Kellogg’s became one of the first big brands to announce that it would remove its ads from Breitbart News. In retaliation, Breitbart called for a boycott, and the cereal brand seems to have suffered from the uproar on social media. At the same time, it received lots of good press for taking its stand; in early December, many consumers announced that they would reward the company by making all-Kellogg’s donations to soup kitchens.
I expected that other companies would want to trumpet their own Breitbart departures. It seemed an easy win for corporate P.R. to distance itself from Klan-rally-like riffs like this one — “every tree, every rooftop, every picket fence, every telegraph pole in the South should be festooned with the Confederate battle flag.” (Telegraph poles!?)
But when I reached out to several organizations that seemed to have joined the ban, they didn’t want to talk about it. A bank and a nonprofit group did not respond to my queries. Two companies — 3M and Zappos — declined to talk about the matter. A Patagonia spokeswoman said that her company did not advertise on white-supremacist sites — but she would not comment on the screenshots that activists had sent to Patagonia in early December showing the company’s logo on Breitbart’s Facebook page. Warby Parker was the most forthcoming; a representative pointed me to a statement that thanked a Twitter activist for inspiring its own ban on Breitbart.
In the behavior of some of these companies, you can detect the way our norms have already shifted. In the old normal, it would have cost little to stand up against neo-Nazi slogans. But in the new normal, doing so might involve angering key players in the White House, including the president-elect, Donald J. Trump, who has hired the former editor of Breitbart as his senior adviser. Mr. Trump recently proved the damage he could do to a company by criticizing Lockheed Martin on Twitter; soon after, its stocks prices tumbled.
Thus ends my weekly-ish update. Apart from my funniest #saltbae gif of the week of course…