“Fake News” and Gambling on Cynicism.
In my last post I reported on a class action lawsuit against the Atlantic Lottery Corporation. Punters in Newfoundland mistrust ALC’s video lottery terminals believing they are rigged to lose. Lottery games are, of course, designed to do this very thing. You have to be aware that any number or symbol will only pop up randomly, and matching any three is three orders of magnitude more random. You can dream about getting lucky, but you can’t plan on it.
Apparently the locals have lost faith in their friendly neighbourhood government monopoly. The judge surely understands the odds against winning but believes there is merit in the case. Players aren’t looking for a needle in a haystack; they are looking for a haystack, on a comet, circling another star!
I have to believe there is something more at work here. It’s frustrating when the river card turns against you in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em but the cards are physical. We believe though in digital malfeasance when a video screen spins up a useless fruit salad of unrelated symbols. It just seems more infuriating when a machine refuses to offer at least some solace after producing an endless string of losses.
I’ve explained previously, (“Winning the Lottery: Luck of the Draw”, June 29th, 2016), how draw lotteries like Canada’s 6/49 or US Powerball draws work. Carefully balanced balls careen inside a drum until the required number tumble down a chute. It’s random, unpredictable but it’s tactile and visible. Even computer scientists don’t know exactly what’s going on inside a computer and the public is growing leery of all the ways computers can be hacked and manipulated. This unease can be forgiven if it involves an unco-operative slot machine, but an epidemic of mistrust is breaking out over something we rely on daily: being informed.
The World’s Most Mistrusted Media Source.
There are many institutions that are suffering from steady declines in trust. Election polls have taken a beating, not least because pollsters have suffered a stream of spectacular failures. Public opinion of government waxes and wanes but has declined fairly steadily since the 1950’s. The news media, which once meant your local newspaper, now encompasses streaming, broadcasting and a wild west of digital vulgarity blasting 24/7. We have the most sources of information in 5,000 years and we hate it. To be more accurate: you hate the person I like and I hate the person you like.
The recent US election made a cottage industry of ‘fake news’. Web sites world wide published the most heinous accusations against all candidates. Fans of one side would gleefully re-tweet their favourite “news” about the other side and then engage in ferocious invective against what the other side claimed to be true. Apparently, teens in Macedonia made great money pumping out colourful material for US consumption. Of course, Russia had some sort of influence; hacking sites or, in some obscure way, “influencing” the election result.
If you’re on the losing side, your belief in magical intervention comforts you. If you backed the winner, you discount every suggestion that victory wasn’t inevitable from the beginning. We are at the dawn of the age of mistrust and the twilight of nuance.
Maybe something even more insidious than hacked emails and broadcast rumours has been at work on our society. Perhaps a foreign agency has been trying to convince us for decades that free market capitalism is somehow a failure. By feeding disinformation, misinformation, or just a flood of too much information, the foes of Western civilisation have taken us all for a horrible ride.
Or maybe the CIA planted the whole story.
The Oxford English Dictionary announced “post-truth” as their word for 2016. The OED folks pick words for the frequency of use as well as utility. Post -truth is defined as a state when “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion or personal belief.” Political careers rise or fall based on how blocs of voters feel. A blizzard of “sunny ways” buries successful policies like low taxes, restricted government and individual freedom with responsible citizenship. Secret funds pay advocacy groups to hold angry marches. Self-interest is raised above public interest as a political goal.
With the verbal temperature turned up on even the most inconsequential issue, debate is cancelled prior to discussion. It has reached a point that holding an accepted opinion isn’t enough. You have to believe in all the same facts with fervor equal to the looniest adherent.
I hope that enough people will step back and give due respect to their fellow citizens. However, if one of your tactics to “win” arguments is using excessive volume rather than reasoned information…you’re on your own.
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