Wednesday, November 30, 2016

In today’s world, the truth is losing


image from article, with caption: Employees of the state-owned English-language Russia Today (RT) television network wait for Russian President Vladimir Putin.


By David Ignatius Opinion writer November 29 at 7:16 PM, Washington Post; see also Robert G. Parkinson, "Fake News? That's a very old story," November 25, Washington Post.

JB - fyi, am working on an article on "narrative" (a mot du jour mentioned in below article) as a buzzword in today's inside-the-beltway parlance; re my ongoing notes on "narrative," see.



Richard Stengel, the State Department’s undersecretary for public diplomacy, bluntly states the problem that has been worrying him and should worry us all: “In a global information war, how does the truth win?”
The very idea that the truth won’t be triumphant would, until recently, have been heresy to Stengel, a former managing editor of Time magazine. But in the nearly three years since he joined the State Department, Stengel has seen the rise of what he calls a “post-truth” world, where the facts are sometimes overwhelmed by propaganda from Russia and the Islamic State.
“We like to think that truth has to battle itself out in the marketplace of ideas. Well, it may be losing in that marketplace today,” Stengel warned in an interview. “Simply having fact-based messaging is not sufficient to win the information war.”
Stengel poses an urgent question for journalists, technologists and, more broadly, everyone living in free societies or aspiring to do so. How do we protect the essential resource of democracy — the truth — from the toxin of lies that surrounds it? It’s like a virus or food poisoning. It needs to be controlled. But how?
Stengel argues that the U.S. government should sometimes protect citizens by exposing “weaponized information, false information” that is polluting the ecosystem. But ultimately, the defense of truth must be independent of a government that many people mistrust. “There are inherent dangers in having the government be the verifier of last resort,” he argues.
Our conversation took place in Stengel’s office, the same room that was used by Secretary of State George C. Marshall, a paradigmatic figure in the American age of reason. As Stengel observed, the problems of today’s information-saturated society would have been unimaginable for Marshall, who lived at a time when information was scarce and precious and when openness brought change.
Now, says Stengel, social media give everyone the opportunity to construct their own narrative of reality. He recalls the early days of the Islamic State in 2014, when extremists used brutal imagery to terrorize people and recruit followers. The State Department’s early counter-radicalization efforts mistakenly were “tit for tat,” arguing with jihadists’ interpretation of Islam. A better strategy, U.S. officials learned, was to empower others who could make the case more effectively. 
“The central insight was that we’re not the best messenger for our message,” Stengel explains, “because in the post-truth world, the people we’re trying to reach automatically question anything from the U.S. government.” As the Islamic State has weakened, so, too, has its media campaign. Messages have dwindled; recruits have disappeared; the “brand” has been devalued.
Russia’s propaganda campaigns since the 2014 invasion of Crimea have been much subtler and harder to combat. That’s partly because Moscow’s goal isn’t to confront the West head-on, but to spread doubt and mistrust within. Stengel quotes Peter Pomerantsev, the author of “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia.” For a Russian leadership schooled on KGB tactics, Pomerantsev argues, “It’s not an information war. It’s a war on information.”
Stengel dissects the pastiche of fact and fantasy on Russian media outlets such as Russia Today and Sputnik this way: “They’re not trying to say that their version of events is the true one. They’re saying: ‘Everybody’s lying! Nobody’s telling you the truth!’ ”
Russia’s hacking during the U.S. presidential election had this aim of polluting the public information stream. “They don’t have a candidate, per se. But they want to undermine faith in democracy, faith in the West.” In the cyber-propagandists’ atomized, construct-your-own-narrative world, agreement on a common framework of factual evidence can become almost impossible.
How should citizens who want a fact-based world combat this assault on truth? Stengel has approved State Department programs that teach investigative reporting and empower truth-tellers, but he’s right that this isn’t really a job for Uncle Sam. 
The best hope may be the global companies that have created the social-media platforms. “They see this information war as an existential threat,” says Stengel. The tech companies have made a start: He says Twitter has removed more than 400,000 accounts, and YouTube daily deletes extremist videos. 
The real challenge for global tech giants is to restore the currency of truth. Perhaps “machine learning” can identify falsehoods and expose every argument that uses them. Perhaps someday, a human-machine process will create what Stengel describes as a “global ombudsman for information.”
But right now, the truth is losing. And we wonder: Which side will America’s next president take in the war on information? 
***

Francis Bacon

Essays or Counsels

I.  Of Truth.


WHAT is Truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer
. Certainly there be that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief; affecting free-will in thinking, as well as in acting. And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them as was in those of the ancients. But it is not only the difficulty and labour which men take in finding out of truth; nor again that when it is found it imposeth upon men's thoughts; that doth bring lies in favour; but a natural though corrupt love of the lie itself. One of the later school of the Grecians examineth the matter, and is at a stand to think what should be in it, that men should love lies, where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets, nor for advantage, as with the merchant; but for the lie's sake. But I cannot tell: this same truth is a naked and open day-light, that doth not shew the masks and mummeries and triumphs of the world, half so stately and daintily as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that sheweth best by day; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond or carbuncle, that sheweth best in varied lights. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt, that if there were taken out of men's minds vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves? One of the Fathers, in great severity, called poesy vinum daemonum, because it filleth the imagination; and yet it is but with the shadow of a lie. But it is not the lie that passeth through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in and settleth in it, that doth the hurt; such as we spake of before. But howsoever these things are thus in men's depraved judgments and affections, yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the Inquiry of truth, which is the love-making or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature. The first creature of God, in the works of the days, was the light of the sense; the last was the light of reason; and his sabbath work ever since, is the illumination of his Spirit. First he breathed light upon the face of the matter or chaos; then he breathed light into the face of man; and still he breatheth and inspireth light into the face of his chosen. The poet that beautified the sect that was otherwise inferior to the rest, saith yet excellently well: It is a pleasure to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle and the adventures thereof below: but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of Truth, (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene,) and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below; so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling or pride. Certainly, it is heaven upon earth, to have a man's mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.


    To pass from theological and philosophical truth, to the truth of civil business; it will be acknowledged even by those that practise it not, that clear and round dealing is the honour of man's nature; and that mixture of falsehood is like allay in coin of gold and silver, which may make the metal work the better, but it embaseth it. For these winding and crooked courses are the goings of the serpent; which goeth basely upon the belly, and not upon the feet. There is no vice that doth so cover a man with shame as to be found false and perfidious. And therefore Montaigne saith prettily, when he inquired the reason, why the word of the lie should be such a disgrace and such an odious charge? Saith he, If it be well weighed, to say that a man lieth, is as much to say, as that he is brave towards God and a coward towards men. For a lie faces God, and shrinks from man. Surely the wickedness of falsehood and breach of faith cannot possibly be so highly expressed, as in that it shall be the last peal to call the judgments of God upon the generations of men; it being foretold, that when Christ cometh, he shall not find faith upon the earth.
[@ Bacon, Works VI, 377-379]
***
"Truth in closet words shall fail,
When truth embodied in a tale
Shall enter in at lowly doors."

cited in; exact source not fully identified



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