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The Internet The Media News

The Internet's New Alternate Reality 869

Posted by Soulskill
from the it's-true-i-read-it-on-the-interweb dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Tim Rutten writes in the LA Times that when President Obama released his long form birth certificate last week, one of the striking things about the reaction to the president's calm and — to reasonable minds — entirely persuasive appearance in the White House briefing room Wednesday was the rapidity and ease with which so many leading birthers rejected the evidence he presented. 'Until very recently, if every professional news organization in the nation examined a charge and found it baseless, it was — for all intents and purposes — dropped,' writes Rutten. 'Today, the growth of the Internet has drained the noun "news" of its former authority. If you don't like the facts presented on the sites of established news organizations, you simply keep clicking until you find one whose "facts" accord with your beliefs.'"
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The Internet's New Alternate Reality

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @05:14AM (#36008296)

    You are supposed to trust the police, but then one of them treats you like shit. Then you end up not trusting any of them.

    It is easy to criticize people for not trusting the media, but who hasn't been intentionally lied to by the media? The blame belongs on a lot of people here. Don't just blame the birthers.

    • by Internetuser1248 (1787630) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @05:43AM (#36008452)
      Damn right. The pundits screaming Obama is a socialist, communist, nazi, islamic, athiest who wasn't born in the US on the Faux news network, the idea that the media would then subsequently blame the internet for this is laughable and pathetic.
      • by somersault (912633) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @05:59AM (#36008516) Homepage Journal

        This isn't about the internet. It's just basic human behaviour. Look at religion for an example of the same types of thinking for the last few thousand years. Any time one of the basic beliefs of a religion is proven false, they either route around it or ignore it.

        • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @09:59AM (#36010172)

          When I was in religious studies, I took a sociology class called "The True Believer" that dealt with this phenomenon. In short, the True Believer exists in religion, politics, in movements and causes of every kind. For the True Believer, his/her cause has surpassed reason and become a matter of faith. Anyone who questions it has become a mere obstacle to test their faith. Any evidence to the contrary is false simple by virtue of that contradiction.

          Any attempt to sway a True Believer is pointless. A True Believer can only be swayed by a serious personal crisis or epiphany, a "Road to Damascus" moment that shifts their faith radically. And when they do change, it's usually just to move on an embrace some new cause to be a True Believer in.

          • Good point. Minor addition: I believe (personally, having studied anthropology) that the True Believer can also have their views modified by peer pressure. Cult followers for example: "de-programming" starts with removing the person from their True Believer environment. Over time they often mentally adapt to the new environment, and their views moderate slowly. Sometimes it doesn't work that way, but I think this is another (rocky) road out for true believers..

          • Very interesting. Not only does it hold for these extreme cases, I wonder if it might offer a clue in our understanding of milder behaviors as well.

            In my routine dealings with others, I find myself frustrated at times with the wall of irrationality that I encounter in some people. I don't know if such people would meet the test of being a True Believer, in that they may not have embraced any specific cause. I think it's more that they don't hold evidence and reason to be impartial sources of truth. I
        • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @12:24PM (#36012008) Homepage Journal

          This isn't about the internet. It's just basic human behaviour.

          Point taken, but human behavior can be shaped and amplified by its environment, and the Internet is a BIG part of many peoples' environment. It is human nature to weigh beliefs and values against the ones that prevail in their community, say about the acceptability of shoplifting vs. the acceptability of driving ten miles per hour over the speed limit. In most cases this heuristic has some value, but it can be unreasonably hard on, say, a gay atheist sci-fi fan in a small town dominated by evangelical Christians. If you wish you can reverse the scenario and make it a born-again Christian living in an ultra-liberal gay enclave. Either way, such fish-out-of-water individuals find in on-line communities a counterpoint the prevailing opinions of those around them.

          That's a good thing, but like most momentous inventions there's a dark side to the on-line community. The tendency to be influenced by the opinions of those around you can broaden viewpoints in real-world communities in ways that don't happen in on-line groups. Imagine a town meeting where fiscal conservatives and education advocates have rough parity. Since neither side can dominate the other, members of each side begin adapting and adopting positions of the other side in order to advance their agendas. An on-line community would simply split where a real-world community evolves. After you've bought into a virtual community that has coalesced around an issue like birtherism, everyone you spend most of your time talking to about the issue with seems to agree with you. Then one day you mention it to your neighbor, only to discover he's apparently a nut who actually thinks Obama was born in Hawaii.

          On-line communities shapes "big" ideological opinions in a way that makes them more extreme and less vulnerable to critical examination.

          A few years back I spent several days exploring the world of on-line white supremacist and neo-nazi communities. You'd expect those places to feel like scenes from Mel Brooks' *The Producers* for being too over-the-top. But they aren't. On the contrary, they're models of decorum. Why shouldn't there be? Everyone there essentially thinks the same things. There's even a fair facsimile of reasoned debate, as when newcomers bring up some ancient piece of discredited racist pseudoscience. The newcomer is called out in a kind and supportive manner *then pointed to a more impressive piece of racist pseudoscience*.

          What these on-line extremist communities do is threefold:

          (1) Reinforce the participants' beliefs by providing community that is much more supportive and seems much more reasonable than the real world, while isolating the participants' opinions from any substantial criticism.
          (2) Train a participant to present the most effective arguments for the community's positions in a way that does not immediately brand him a lunatic, then provide emotional support and post-mortem analysis should he nonetheless be shown a lunatic.
          (3) Unites what would be a scattered group of isolated misfits into a coordinated community with economic, and in time maybe even political clout.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by clang_jangle (975789)

        The pundits screaming Obama is a socialist, communist, nazi, islamic, athiest who wasn't born in the US on the Faux news network...

        By definition, idiots like Hannity and Beck are not "pundits". [wikipedia.org]

      • by HangingChad (677530) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @08:28AM (#36009216) Homepage

        the idea that the media would then subsequently blame the internet for this is laughable and pathetic.

        Exactly. Those rumors and criticisms are being started by people being paid a lot of money to skew the news. There's nothing accidental about it. Just because the dumbest fraction of society doesn't want to give up the lies isn't the fault of the internet, it's a failure of our educational system.

      • It couldn't be things like Dan Rather being so excited to nail Bush that he didn't even want to check the authenticity of the document, how about the media spending weeks falsely accusing Richard Jewell of the Olympic bombing, how about in the early parts of the failed NYC car bombing angry tea partiers were to blame, or that Jared Loughner committed the Tuscon attack because he was influenced by the tea party. When the news gets back to reporting facts in stead of politically motivated speculation then pe
      • by ArcherB (796902) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @08:45AM (#36009354) Journal

        Damn right. The pundits screaming Obama is a socialist, communist, nazi, islamic, athiest who wasn't born in the US on the Faux news network, the idea that the media would then subsequently blame the internet for this is laughable and pathetic.

        Wasn't it Dan Rather of Fox News that released that document about George Bush that was an obvious fake? Even after it was proven beyond any reasonable doubt that it was a fake, didn't he insist that it was authentic? I remember the contempt he held for those that dared to question him. He even tried to discredit them by claiming that they sat around in their pajamas, challenging the work of "real" jounalists?

        All of that is true, except Dan Rather never worked for Fox News. And Fox News wasn't the ones pushing the "birther" thing. It headlined MSNBC every single night for weeks. The pundits at Fox News were calling birthers a joke. Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and even Glenn Beck called it a waste of time and every single one of them said Obama was born in HI well before the certificate was ever released.

        Don't let the facts get in the way of your hatred of Fox News. I'm sorry the truth in the real world doesn't match the fantasies you've dreamed up in your head. I guess if the people you hate are not evil enough to justify your hatred, you have to make stuff up to fill the void. The sad part is that you have managed to convince yourself of something that doesn't match reality.

        • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @09:25AM (#36009754)

          All of that is true, except Dan Rather never worked for Fox News. And Fox News wasn't the ones pushing the "birther" thing. It headlined MSNBC every single night for weeks. The pundits at Fox News were calling birthers a joke. Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly and even Glenn Beck called it a waste of time and every single one of them said Obama was born in HI well before the certificate was ever released.

          Some pundits called the birthers a joke. Others let them have a forum to espouse their wild theories. Some like Glen Beck would admit the authenticity of the birth certificate on TV then go on other media like radio and internet and question it: Obama's birth certificate 'horrible forgery' [glennbeck.com]. And that was just a single search.

        • by gad_zuki! (70830) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @02:03PM (#36013614)

          Seriously? Dan Rather is your big bogeyman from one mistake that he apologized and quit over vs hours and hours PER DAY OF COMPLETE DISINFORMATION [newshounds.us] on Fox?

          Hannity and the rest weren't birthers? Err, they played up the hysteria quite well. I love how guys like you excuse them from playing up both sides. They'll legitimize it and then wash their hands of it when it gets too hot to handle. Here's Hannity loudly and childishly demanding the birth certificate. [mediamatters.org] Conservative pundit Lou Dobbs [mediamatters.org] went full retard with the birther nonsense that his boss had to make him stop. Sure Dobbs isn't Fox, but he's the conservative voice of CNN. These are two well known pundits. Here's conservative darling and occasional fox news commentator Sarah Palin legitimizing the issue. [huffingtonpost.com]

          And its not just the birther crap. Its the other conspiracy theories. A few years ago it was "Iraq is out to get us with WMD." Now its Obama wants our guns. Healthcare is going to send us to death panels, etc. Whatever gets the GOP base excited. Yet, they're all conspiracy theories. See, once you live in a bubble of disinformation its easy to start believing that the president isnt an American.

          The real issue isn't bloggers vs mainstream press but learning how to recognize the ownership and bias of the established media outlets. Fox is a great example because its such a shitty and biased network that it perfectly illustrates why people should be skeptical of the media. The problem is that most people skeptical of the media do so because they think its liberal and see Fox as the alternative, when it reality, the news is fairly even-handed and pro-corporate, and its Fox that's the ideological nightmare.

    • by MysteriousPreacher (702266) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @05:44AM (#36008462) Journal

      You are supposed to trust the police, but then one of them treats you like shit. Then you end up not trusting any of them.

      It is easy to criticize people for not trusting the media, but who hasn't been intentionally lied to by the media? The blame belongs on a lot of people here. Don't just blame the birthers.

      It's not just about trust. It's a failure of critical and rational thinking, and people opting for news sources that'll tell them what they want to hear. Plenty of these wingnuts trust Fox News because the channel will give them exactly what they want to see. The Internet has blurred the lines somewhat, with people pointing to blogs and any random site as being authoritative - simply because it happens to agree with their own beliefs.

      It's a country in which the governor of Texas has repeatedly appealed to citizens to telepathically urge an omnipotent invisible deity to change the weather for the state. To borrow an analogy from Sam Harris, would Perry's appeal for divine intervention be any more insane if he asked that people communicate with God by talking in to a hairdryer? It shouldn't really be any more insane. The elephant in the room here is the idea that any kind of communication is possible with some invisible all-powerful being, yet people who believe they can talk to God would almost certainly consider Perry to be mad if he added the hairdryer to his request.

        So long as it's culturally acceptable to proudly hold irrational beliefs it's difficult to imagine how people like the birthers really can be sidelined and ignored? Birthers are just one symptom. We have the anti-vaxxers, 9/11 truthers and God knows how many other nutjobs who receive far too much consideration and acceptance. There's a real need here to school people in rational and critical thinking. That doesn't mean being anti-religious, but certainly one would hope that with critical thinking people would realise that such beliefs are best kept as a personal thing in much the same way that a man's fondness for dressing up as a schoolgirl and getting his arse paddled is certainly harmless fun, but probably not something he can demand respect for in the public square.

  • KENYA, Indonesia, Wednesday (WorldNetDaily) — Barack Obama's alleged long-form birth certificate has been declared fraudulent by the noble and patriotic "Birther" movement, who claim firm evidence [newstechnica.com] that the President is insufficiently white.

    "I've seen a few Photoshops in my time," said immigrant Birther and world's oldest emo kid Orly Taitz. "I can tell from a few of the pixels. They're nowhere near light enough."

    Donald Trump, the next Sarah Palin, takes credit for provoking the release of this initial documentation of the mysterious Obama, and has now asked if Obama's college transcript is all that, and something about basketball as the President's favourite pastime. Betting pools are now forming on when Trump will allude to watermelon and fried chicken.

    Birthers are routinely outraged at suggestions that blatant racism is at the heart of their disquiet with Obama's landslide victory in the 2008 presidential election. So it's really worth saying it to them, every time.

    The Birther movement was originally started by Party Unity My Ass, a group of disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters during the 2008 Democratic primary. They note that Obama has, on his track record so far, been a first-class Republican president.

  • Surprising? (Score:5, Funny)

    by VortexCortex (1117377) <VortexCortex AT ... trograde DOT com> on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @05:15AM (#36008308)
    I call bullshit... I find it hard to believe that people only like to be told what they want to hear.
  • by Dr Damage I (692789) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @05:17AM (#36008318) Journal
    Who knows, maybe the BC is fake but accurate.
  • by Andy Smith (55346) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @05:21AM (#36008338) Homepage

    "If you don't like the facts presented on the sites of established news organizations, you simply keep clicking until you find one whose "facts" accord with your beliefs."

    That's the way it has always been. People choose the newspaper or TV channel that selects / presents / distorts / invents the news in the way most fitting to their own world view. All that has changed is that the number of available publications has increased.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      There has to be more to it than just that. Otherwise the Daily Mail and Fox News would never get any new customers because their starting point is so far removed from reality that it would never fit non-customer's existing world view.

      People tend to trust news sources, and in the past they were at least somewhat reputable and made some effort to check the facts. Printing outright lies could get them into litigation. Apparently people don't differentiate between reputable sources, less reputable sources and e

  • Irony? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mjec (666932) <slashdot@mBLUEjec.net minus berry> on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @05:23AM (#36008352) Homepage Journal

    I can't be the only one who sees the irony in the URL being /news/opinion/...

  • Many revelations in later years have show us that the news establishment don't care for the truth at all. Many of the things reveled in the wikileaks cables was known but not reported. The war against Iraq was totally baseless but nobody seemed to care in the media. All they did was distributing what officials told them, without even bothering a simple fact check. All in all i think the problem described comes from the total lack of moral fiber in the media.

    When you know almost everybody is lying to you, its only human to be drawn to news you think sounds most plausible.

  • by mentil (1748130) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @05:34AM (#36008396)

    There is a real problem of people selectively tuning in to news sources that cater to their bias, but the summary has a tone implying that established news sources are more correct or neutral than new media when this isn't always the case. The scare quotes around 'facts' clearly suggest that new media are wrong and established media is right. Using the term 'birthers' paints the believers as conspiracy theorists, which may be accurate but is unnecessary.

  • by Soulfader (527299) <(sig) (at) (sigspace.net)> on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @05:34AM (#36008400) Journal
    I think the traditional mass media has done plenty to damage their own credibility. Why blame the internet?
    • by sco08y (615665) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @07:23AM (#36008842)

      I think the traditional mass media has done plenty to damage their own credibility. Why blame the internet?

      Their credibility was an aberration to begin with, and really only came about because of big business got in bed with big government during the 1920s. The syndicates, naturally, wanted to get stories ahead of the smaller papers and came to a cozy agreement with politicians not to say anything too outrageous. The politicians were only too happy to comply, and this pushed the smaller, noisier papers to covering local matters. The syndicates were able to promote themselves as being the voice of authority, the peak of which came with Walter Cronkite.

  • by Hazel Bergeron (2015538) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @05:44AM (#36008458) Journal

    We must not underestimate the importance of reputation and multiple sources. Modern technology, sleight of hand and a convincing smile mean that any claim can be well supported by physical "evidence" and we need independent tests of the reliability of the evidence.

    For example, OBL was killed within the past week. We know this because the US government says so. The US government say they've confirmed it because they performed DNA tests. This means that we must trust the US government and, if the DNA test data is released, that the data is not fabricated. Why should we do that? What about the alternatives: that he is not dead, or - per Benazir - that he has been dead for several years already? We do not have sufficient reliable evidence for any of these claims, so we should not assume that any are true.

    Similarly, what does OBL's birth certificate say? It says that a piece of paper was produced resembling a birth certificate. Is this sufficient evidence that he was born in the US? No. Is there credible evidence that he was not born in the US? No. We must either trust him, not care, or explore further. I've always thought the "where you're born" rule about the Presidency is against the principles on which the US was founded, so I'd pick the "not care" option.

  • William Miller (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mathfeel (937008) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @05:47AM (#36008480)
    Since TFA cites the example of Miller, may I remind everyone that the rapture is happening this month: http://www.ebiblefellowship.com/may21/ [ebiblefellowship.com] and I predict a recalculation on May 22nd.
  • Not new at all (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Haedrian (1676506) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @05:54AM (#36008496)

    Over where I come from we have 3 main Tv channels. One is run by an independant group, and two others are run by different political parties.

    If you watch the three news programs in series, you'll go from a country which is collapsing due to corruption and bad stuff the PM is doing, a country which is perfect because of what the PM is doing, to something in the middle.

    So yeah, this is pretty much the case everything has been in for years.

  • by JumperCable (673155) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @06:18AM (#36008592)

    "Distrust in U.S. Media Edges Up to Record High"

    For the fourth straight year, the majority of Americans say they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. The 57% who now say this is a record high by one percentage point.

    http://www.gallup.com/poll/143267/distrust-media-edges-record-high.aspx [gallup.com]

  • by sco08y (615665) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @06:22AM (#36008616)

    This is yet another story about something we've heard a million times over, but they put "Internet!" in the title and treat it as though it's novel.

    "Birtherism" isn't new, nor limited to black presidents. There was a long argument over whether McCain was native born, there were even debates about whether George W Bush was native born, and have been about presidents going way back. Even recently there was a huge amount of discussion over whether Sarah Palin was really Trig's mother. Even after multiple journalists reported that they had seen her pregnant belly, other equally prominent journalists were still Just Asking Questions.

    And birtherism is loopy, but nothing compared to trutherism. About one third of Democrats believed that the government intentionally killed its own citizens to start a wars or, at least, that Bush knew about 9/11 and let it happen. Most Democrats also still claim that W was AWOL from his guard duty, and many prominent figures demanded explanations. CBS's Dan Rather, a 40 year veteran reporter, completely destroyed his career trying to pass off some forged documents. To this day, the guy insists that those forgeries were "fake but accurate". And, of course, there are long standing conspiracy theories about the Bush family's involvement with Nazis and such.

    This gets play because "ooh, look, the Internet!" but if you look at what various conspiracies have in common, they're all old fashioned fishing expeditions. After Obama presented the long form, Trump *instantly* went to demanding his college records. The weird Palin birthers want all sorts of hospital records. The AWOL Bush people had huge lists of demands.

    All these demands seek to scrutinize every possible second of a person's life. What happens when it's put into practice is the unbounded, independent prosecutor. Ken Starr, for instance, started out by investigating serious claims of corruption by the Clintons. When that turned up nothing, it morphed into a fishing expedition that turned up Lewinsky, Jones and Flowers. Incidentally, there are Clinton obsessives who are still Just Asking Questions, I won't link to it, but do a search for the "Clinton Death List" if you're curious to see some real crazy.

  • us news is unique (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Jeek Elemental (976426) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @06:22AM (#36008622)

    I occasionally get a glimpse of US news shows (clips and some cnn), the contrast with bbc or al jazeera is pretty striking:

    The most important piece of information is always the name of the host, which is repeated every 5 seconds.
    The hosts seem to be picked up straight from plastic surgery, complemented by exaggerated facial expressions.
    Its roughly 5 minutes of program then 5 minutes of commercials.
    If there are 2 hosts they spend half the time demonstrating their "chemistry" for eachother, its painful to watch.
    The graphics remind me of old arcade cabinets, classy like las vegas.
    Interviews are rude and annoying, the object seems to be that noone should speak a complete sentence.

    I dont think its odd americans dont trust news, theres nothing trustworthy about it.

  • by medcalf (68293) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @06:51AM (#36008718) Homepage
    So I suppose he can be forgiven as a matter of self-interest for omitting Rathergate, CNN's deliberate reporting of Saddam's propaganda in order to retain access, NBC rigging pickups to explode to get an "exposé" and the like. Or maybe not, since they directly implicate the real responsible party for the loss of trust in the news media: the constant lies of commission and omission of the news media themselves.
  • by assertation (1255714) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @07:01AM (#36008754)

    that this can work both ways.

    A day after President Obama made his joke about Michele Bachman being born in Canada I found someone on Yahoo Answers seriously asking if she was born there. Muhahahaha

  • ...to having Walter Cronkite feed me the official truth. The loonies were always there and were not convinced by the media consensus: they just had no way to get their message out. Unfortunately, the same applied to some not-so-loonies.

  • by germansausage (682057) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @09:26AM (#36009780)
    What evidence would the birthers accept as proof that Obama is in fact a US citizen? The actual birth certificate, which as far as I know is legal proof good enough for any court in the country, doesn't seem to be sufficient. So what evidence will satisfy them? I suspect that the answer is "Any evidence presented is fake, because it contradicts my strongly held belief".
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by GameboyRMH (1153867)

      If they could travel back in time to witness Obama's birth (backed up by satellite imaging to make sure their apparent Hawaiian environment isn't an elaborate sound stage in Kenya) and collect baby Obama's DNA, they'd come back to the future and report that...

      Today's Obama is a clone of the baby Obama born in Hawaii, and he was cloned in Kenya.

  • by http (589131) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @10:03AM (#36010230) Homepage Journal

    ...comes from an expatriate, who moved to Canada and became a psychologist. Along the way, he was accused of dodging the draft, accidentally raised a kid who went in to politics, and discovered an alarming (and measurable) character trait that (among other things) brings along with it a willingness to accept any "logical" conclusion they agree with, no matter how faulty the reasoning, and to assert that the reasoning is valid.

    http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/ [umanitoba.ca]

    "The Authoritarians" is available as a free PDF, (~ 250 p), and it's moderatly funny, given that the subject is just what kind of lunacy you can expect when dealing with the hard core neocons and their followers, and where that lunacy comes from. Warning: I lost time reading this, and I normally don't give a rat's ass about psychology. It's that good.

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