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PropOrNot, FakeNews, Harding

December 2, 2016

Today’s NC has some alleged “dirt” PropOrNot. This project, which WAPO enthusiastically promoted, came up with a blacklist of 200 non-mainstream US news websites and blogs etc etc, I think Ben Norton and Glenn Greenwald cover the story for future reference when we’re looking back on this in a year or whenever.

The “dirt” consists of links to internet promoters of Ukrainian right-wingers (or, to be really specific, promoters of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, in which the right-wingers on both sides are the most enthusiastic in their desire to fight regardless of consequences). Specifically a guy named Harding, who popped up when I was covering the Russia-Ukraine situation 2 years ago. I will return to him in a few paragraphs.

We will recall that at that time, the White House generally repeated press releases of the Ukrainian government, which, during the conflict, was dominated by an assortment of right wingers. The whole thing is so embarrassing, and the subject so hopelessly polluted by ideologically driven press from both sides, that I decided to stop talking about it. For the record it is and was my position that the Ukrainian right wingers were in the wrong in that conflict. I now believe that any involvement by the US was an innocent mistake (I previously attributed it to incompetence, malice, substance abuse, or most potently, uncritical acceptance of departmental talking points).

But in a couple of ways it is instructive too, since I learned a lot about the kinds of audiences you get on the internet. Most people, of course, are “regurgitators” who simply repeat the talking points of their camp (type I). Their defining characteristic is they never publish anything you won’t find in a “major” media outlet. More interesting are the “active” types who go above and beyond in some way. Among those, the most motivated (on both sides, here meaning Ukr vs Rus) are right wingers (type II). And the crazier the right-winger, the more determined and methodical they are, and this actually makes them effective researchers, within the confines of their ideological limits. (I.e., they research only things that support their point of view). This results in an unexpected asymmetry, where the primary sources are dug up by the right-wingers, and the left-wingers then consume those !!!

But also, if you put out something new, anything new, these guys will be all over it before anyone else. And so if someone notices that PropOrNot’s first twitter followers were Ukrainian right-wingers, that is a side effect of that. (By the way I think Twitter is singlehandedly responsible for making the human race dumber.)

Harding himself, I remember his photo with the motorcycle from a blog with which I briefly interacted. I had him pegged as a type I (regurgitator) actually, meaning he mostly recycled press releases. Perhaps he evolved.

That’s actually the other interesting thing. People evolve, most commonly from type I (regurgitators), to type II (conspiracy theorists, typ. right-wing), and then if they don’t get stuck at that level, into something else with positive value. What happens is the regurgitator realizes that their side’s newspaper/TV is lying to them, about some detail they consider important but most people do not (in my case, it was the justification of the Iraq War). They already know the opposing newspaper/TV is lying. So then they go to conspiracy theory, sometimes left-wing but more often right wing, and sometimes a blend too, such as libertarians maybe (not all of whom are right-wingers, but again they seem to dominate). After some years, they realize that most media targeted to the conspiracy theory crowd is also full of it. And so the search for truth goes on. I think this all is actually a positive development path, on the whole. The world would function much better if even the most naiive among us understood that media (whether mainstream or independent) is generally published, at least in part, with a cynical manipulative purpose. That is no worse than knowing that your business partners are trying to profit from doing business with you. And I actually think that most people do get this, and the “powers that be” object a lot less than you think they might. (witness the success of the Murdoch empire).

So as for PropOrNot and FakeNews… due to the WAPO’s sheer stupidity in adopting this boat-anchor of a talking point, it will help a lot of people take the first step in their journey. The second step, where most people explore right-wing conspiracy theories for a time, is a potentially dangerous one. When one is hungry for a new truth, having rejected the old truth, there is vulnerability to various charlatans. After the first time, you learn though. Remember, there are further steps beyond type II. You want to move people forward through this progression, not backward.

If any “serious” people are reading this, I want to take the opportunity to repeat, that it is quite easy for mainstream news to win audiences back from this. One has to simply acknowledge the things reported in the past which happened not to be true, but do it like someone was going to check your work.

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