1984 in 2023

I have been reading the classic dystopian novel, 1984, which has eerie echoes in the present day.  It is modeled on Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany and “examines the role of truth and facts within societies and the ways in which they can be manipulated,” according to the Wikipedia summary.  It takes place in Oceania, which is ruled by “The Party,” whose slogans are “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” and “Ignorance is Strength.”

Fast forward to the present, where the Fox “News” Network repeatedly broadcasted reports of election fraud that top executives knew to be false.  Not surprisingly, Fox and other right-wing media outlets have largely refused to acknowledge these deceptions, according to the New York Times.  Fox even ordered its media reporter not to cover the story.  As a result of Fox’s lack of coverage, “many of the people who heard the conspiracy theories about election fraud on Fox’s networks may not be learning that Fox’s leaders and on-air stars privately dismissed those claims.”

This illustrates modern information bubbles where some people choose to get all their news from a single source or media ecosphere.  Relying on such single sources is an illustration of confirmation bias, where people seek only information that reinforces their pre-existing beliefs.

People may not respond well to information that contradicts their beliefs.  For example, according to the Times, some supporters of former President Trump blamed Fox News Corporation Chairman Rupert Murdoch for disloyalty to Mr. Trump.  He was doubly disloyal.  He disbelieved Mr. Trump’s “big lie,” and then he truthfully testified under oath about his disbelief (presumably because the plaintiff had copies of lots of contemporaneous communications evidencing his actual beliefs).  Mr. Trump’s supporters did not, however, complain that Fox perpetuated false conspiracy theories.

Fox News has claimed that it is fair and balanced (though it stopped using that motto in 2017 following the firing of Roger Ailes, who created the slogan.)  Those are important characteristics of good mediators.  Imagine that a mediator did not question clearly dubious claims and, instead, just validated the claims.  Obviously, that would be extremely inappropriate.

Yet that was Fox’s corporate policy.  Reporters were chastised if they didn’t “respect” their viewers, meaning that they should repeat false claims viewers wanted to believe, without question.  This was especially problematic because, to promote its own political and financial self-interests, Fox purposely promoted false narratives about the most fundamental feature of our government.

Fortunately, American society is much more open than in 1984, where there was only a single political party and information source.  Today, we can choose multiple information sources with varying perspectives if we want to get a truly fair and balanced understanding of the world.  Unfortunately, many people prefer to remain in their closed information bubbles and, impervious to evidence and reason, aggressively insist that lies are truth.

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