Fake News and Clickbait

There’s a lot of talk online right now about fake news pages on Face­book and how they influ­enced both the elec­tion and how we think about the elec­tion. It’s a prob­lem and I’m glad peo­ple are shar­ing links about it.

But when we share these links, let’s take that extra step and point to orig­i­nal sources.

Exam­ple: Some­one named Melis­sa Zim­dars has done a lot of work to com­pile a list of fake news sources, pub­lished as a Google Doc with a Cre­ative Com­mons license that allows any­one to repost it. It’s a great pub­lic ser­vice and she’s fre­quent­ly updat­ing it, reclas­si­fy­ing pub­li­ca­tions as feed­back comes in.

The prob­lem is that there are a lot of web pub­lish­ers whose sites exist most­ly to repack­age con­tent. They’ll find a fun­ny Red­dit list and will copy and paste it as an orig­i­nal post or they’ll rewrite a break­ing news source in their own words. The rea­son is obvi­ous: they get the ad dol­lars that oth­er­wise would go to the orig­i­nal con­tent cre­ators. They’re not engag­ing in fake news, per se, but they’re also not adding any­thing to the knowl­edge base of human­i­ty and they’re tak­ing the spot­light off the hard work of the orig­i­nal creators.

Back to our exam­ple, Zimdars’s updates on this click­bait sites don’t get updat­ed as she refines her list. In some cas­es, click­bait web­sites rewrite and repost one another’s ever-more extreme head­lines till they bear lit­tle real­i­ty to the orig­i­nal post (I fol­lowed the page view food chain a few years ago after read­ing a par­tic­u­lar­ly dopey piece about veg­ans launch­ing a boy­cott over a TV ad).

So here’s part two of avoid­ing fake news sites: before you share some­thing on Face­book, take the two min­utes to fol­low any link to the orig­i­nal source and share that instead. Sup­port orig­i­nal con­tent creation.

Expanding our concepts of pacifism

My blog­ging pal Wess Daniels wrote a provoca­tive piece this week called When Peace Pre­serves Vio­lence. It’s a great read and blows some much-needed holes in the self-satisfaction so many of us car­ry with us. But I’d argue that there’s a part two need­ed that does a side-step back to the source…

Eric Moon wrote some­thing that’s stuck with me in his June/July Friends Jour­nal piece, “Cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly Not the Tes­ti­monies.” His arti­cle focus­es on the way we’ve so cod­i­fied the “Quak­er Tes­ti­monies” that they’ve become ossi­fied and tak­en for grant­ed. One dan­ger he sees in this is that we’ll not rec­og­nize clear lead­ings of con­science that don’t fit the modern-day mold.

Moon tells the anec­dote of a Friend who “guilti­ly lament[ed] that he couldn’t attend protest march­es because he was busy all day at a cen­ter for teens at risk for drop­ping out of school, a pro­gram he had estab­lished and invest­ed his own sav­ings in.” Here was a Friend doing real one-on-one work chang­ing lives but feel­ing guilty because he couldn’t par­tic­i­pate in the largely-symbolic act of stand­ing on a street corner.

I don’t think that we need to give up the peace tes­ti­mo­ny to acknowl­edge the entan­gle­ment of our lives and the hypocrisy that lies all-too-shallowly below the sur­face of most of our lifestyles. What we need to do is rethink its boundaries.

A mod­el for this is our much-quoted but much-ignored “Quak­er saint” John Wool­man. While a sense of the equal­i­ty of humans is there in his jour­nal as a source of his com­pas­sion, much of his argu­men­ta­tion against slav­ery is based in Friends by-then well-established tes­ti­mo­ny against war (yes, against war, not for peace). Slav­ery is indeed a state of war and it is on so many lev­els – from the indi­vid­u­als treat­ing each oth­er hor­ri­bly, to soci­etal norms con­struct­ed to make this seem nor­mal, to the economies of nation states built on the trade.

Woolman’s con­cep­tu­al leap was to say that the peace tes­ti­mo­ny applied to slav­ery. If we as Friends don’t par­tic­i­pate in war, then we sim­i­lar­ly can’t par­tic­i­pate in the slave trade or enjoy the ill-gotten fruits of that trade – the war prof­it of cot­tons, dyes, rum, etc.

Today, what else is war? I think we have it hard­er than Wool­man. In the sev­en­teenth cen­tu­ry a high per­cent­age of one’s con­sum­ables came from a tight geo­graph­ic radius. You were like­ly to know the labor that pro­duced it. Now almost noth­ing comes local­ly. If it’s cheap­er to grow gar­lic in Chi­na and ship it halfway around the world than it is to pay local farm­ers, then our local gro­cer will sell Chi­nese gar­lic (mine does). Books and mag­a­zines are sup­plant­ed by elec­tron­ics built in locked-down Far East­ern sweatshops.

But I think we can find ways to dis­en­gage. It’s a never-ending process but we can take steps and sup­port oth­ers tak­ing steps. We’ve got­ten it stuck in our imag­i­na­tion that war is a protest sign out­side Dunkin Donuts. What about those tutor­ing pro­grams? What about reduc­ing our cloth­ing con­sump­tions and find­ing ways to reduce nat­ur­al resource con­sump­tion (best done by lim­it­ing our­selves to lifestyles that cause us to need less resources).

And Yoder? Wess is dis­heart­ened by the sex­u­al mis­con­duct of Men­non­ite paci­fist John Howard Yoder (short sto­ry: he reg­u­lar­ly groped and sex­u­al­ly pres­sured women). But what of him? Of course he’s a fail­ure. In a way, that’s the point, even the plan: human heroes will fail us. Cocks will crow and will we stay silent (why the denom­i­na­tion kept it hush-hush for 15 years after his death is anoth­er whole WTF, of course). But why do I call it the plan? Because we need to be taught to rely first and sec­ond and always on the Spir­it of Jesus. George Fox fig­ured that out:

And when all my hopes in them and in all men were gone, so that I had noth­ing out­ward­ly to help me, nor could I tell what to do; then, oh! then I heard a voice which said, ‘There is one, even Christ Jesus, that can speak to thy con­di­tion’: and when I heard it, my heart did leap for joy. …and this I knew exper­i­men­tal­ly. My desires after the Lord grew stronger, and zeal in the pure knowl­edge of God, and of Christ alone, with­out the help of any man, book, or writing.

If young Fox had found a human hero that actu­al­ly walked the talk, he might have short-circuited the search for Jesus. He need­ed to expe­ri­ence the dis­heart­ened fail­ure of human knowl­edge to be low enough to be ready for his great spir­i­tu­al opening.

We all use iden­ti­ty to prop our­selves up and iso­late our­selves from cri­tique. I think that’s just part of the human con­di­tion. The path toward the divine is not one of retrench­ment or dis­avow­al, but rather focus on that one who might even now be prepar­ing us for new light on the con­di­tions of the human con­di­tion and church universal.

Is dairy overrated?

None oth­er than the NYTimes’s Mark Bittman sounds like a veg­an polemi­cist:

Most humans nev­er tast­ed fresh milk from any source oth­er than their moth­er for almost all of human his­to­ry, and fresh cow’s milk could not be rou­tine­ly avail­able to urban­ites with­out indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment not only sup­ports the milk indus­try by spend­ing more mon­ey on dairy than any oth­er item in the school lunch pro­gram, but by con­tribut­ing free pro­pa­gan­da as well as sub­si­dies amount­ing to well over $4 bil­lion in the last 10 years.

These aren’t new argu­ments, but Bittman presents them well, cit­ing his own expe­ri­ences. And of course it makes a dif­fer­ence that he’s a charm­ing, high pro­file Times columnist.

Where’s the grassroots contemporary nonviolence movement?

I’ve long noticed there are few active, online peace sites or com­mu­ni­ties that have the grass­roots depth I see occur­ring else­where on the net. It’s a prob­lem for Non​vi​o​lence​.org [update: a project since laid down], as it makes it hard­er to find a diver­si­ty of stories.

I have two types of sources for Non​vi​o​lence​.org. The first is main­stream news. I search through Google News, Tech­no­rati cur­rent events, then maybe the New York Times, The Guardian, and the Wash­ing­ton Post.

There are lots of inter­est­ing arti­cles on the war in iraq, but there’s always a polit­i­cal spin some­where, espe­cial­ly in tim­ing. Most big news sto­ries have bro­ken in one month, died down, and then become huge news three months lat­er (e.g., Wilson’s CIA wife being exposed, which was first report­ed on Non​vi​o​lence​.org on July 22 but became head­lines in ear­ly Octo­ber). These news cycles are dri­ven by domes­tic par­ty pol­i­tics, and at times I feel all my links make Non​vi​o​lence​.org sound like an appa­ratchik of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty USA.

But it’s not just the tone that makes main­stream news arti­cles a prob­lem – it’s also the gen­er­al sub­ject mat­ter. There’s a lot more to non­vi­o­lence than anti­war expos­es, yet the news rarely cov­ers any­thing about the cul­ture of peace. “If it bleeds it leads” is an old news­pa­per slo­gan and you will nev­er learn about the wider scope of non­vi­o­lence by read­ing the papers.

My sec­ond source is peace move­ment websites

And these are, by-and-large, unin­ter­est­ing. Often they’re not updat­ed fre­quent­ly. But even when they are, the pieces on them can be shal­low. You’ll see the self-serving press release (“as a peace orga­ni­za­tion we protest war actions”) and you’ll see the exclam­a­to­ry all-caps screed (“eND THe OCCUPATION NOW!!!”). These are fine as long as you’re already a mem­ber of said orga­ni­za­tion or already have decid­ed you’re against the war, but there’s lit­tle per­sua­sion or dia­logue pos­si­ble in this style of writ­ing and organizing.

There are few peo­ple in the larg­er peace move­ment who reg­u­lar­ly write pieces that are inter­est­ing to those out­side our nar­row cir­cles. David McReynolds and Geov Par­rish are two of those excep­tions. It takes an abil­i­ty to some­times ques­tion your own group’s con­sen­sus and to acknowl­edge when non­vi­o­lence ortho­doxy some­times just doesn’t have an answer.

And what of peace blog­gers? I real­ly admire Joshua Mic­ah Mar­shall, but he’s not a paci­fist. There’s the excel­lent Gut­less Paci­fist (who’s led me to some very inter­est­ing web­sites over the last year), Bill Connelly/Thoughts on the eve, Stand Down/No War Blog, and a new one for me, The Pick­et Line. But most of us are all point­ing to the same main­stream news arti­cles, with the same Iraq War focus.

If the web had start­ed in the ear­ly 1970s, there would have been lots of inter­est­ing pub­lish­ing projects and blogs grow­ing out the activist com­mu­ni­ties. Younger peo­ple today are using the inter­net to spon­sor inter­est­ing gath­er­ings and using sites like Meet­up to build con­nec­tions, but I don’t see com­mu­ni­ties built around peace the way they did in the ear­ly 1970s. There are few peo­ple build­ing a life – hope, friends, work – around pacifism.

Has “paci­fism” become ossi­fied as its own in-group dog­ma of a cer­tain gen­er­a­tion of activists? What links can we build with cur­rent move­ments? How can we deep­en and expand what we mean by non­vi­o­lence so that it relates to the world out­side our tiny organizations?

“The president is pleased that the director of central intelligence acknowledged what needed to be acknowledged. The president has moved on…”

Oh good for him.

But wait. The Pres­i­dent also defends CIA direc­tor Tenet who gave him bad infor­ma­tion. So Tenet cov­ered Bush’s bot­tom and now Bush is cov­er­ing Tenet’s so now we can move on. How convenient.

In a TV stu­dio a few blocks away Don­ald Rums­feld has the balls to con­tin­ue defend­ing the inclu­sion of the obvi­ous forgery in the State of the Union address. On a polit­i­cal talk show, he said the Niger ura­ni­um claim was “tech­ni­cal­ly cor­rect” since the Pres­i­dent just said British Intel­li­gence thought it was true. Of course, the Brits have said they said it because Amer­i­can intel­li­gence had told them it was true. Again, how con­ve­nient. I almost expect some­one to say the inclu­sion of the forgery was okay because the Pres­i­dent had his fin­gers crossed behind his back as he read that part of the speech.

I think we could go too far in the who-said-what depart­ment with this speech. It was one speech, grant­ed the most impor­tant of the year, but still the big issue is that Bush repeat­ed­ly fed the Amer­i­can peo­ple dubi­ous claims about Iraq’s pro­grams to build weapons of mass destruc­tion. When­ev­er a reporter asked a hard ques­tion about these claims, the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion essen­tial­ly told us there was more intel­li­gence that they couldn’t share and that we should all trust them. Well it’s turned out the Admin­is­tra­tion was wrong. This is a colos­sal fail­ure and this is the big scan­dal of the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion and the biggest source of shame for the Amer­i­can and British peoples.