Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Echo Chamber

It has been well remarked, that in pre-packaging the selection of articles they show you, based on your personal browsing history and what their metrics predict you’ll want to see, news outlets and news aggregators are swaddling their readers in solipsism, so that what you ever get to see is a foregone conclusion.  That, superadded to the bias problems of outlets with an agenda to push.

I try to fight this, in part by sampling a wide variety of outlets in various languages and countries (the taboos in America differ from those in Europe, for example, so that a story suppressed in one venue  might be reported in another).   But access to these (apart from those I regularly check into as a matter of course, like and and and, usw.) is generally, again, via aggregators --*….  Naturally, the Google staff may have their own slant, but hopefully that differs from country to country.

Recently, however, something quite disturbing happened, on the British version [not a typo:  .co, not .com]:  They suddenly started adding entire sections grouped by special-interest material. (This happened only on this Mac, not on our tablet running Android.)
The only previous one, “Suggested for You”, is unobjectionable, being clearly so labeled, and moreover they offer a “Still interested? Yes/No” opt-out option.  For example, they flag articles about the TV show Blindspot, a holdover from when I nursed hopes (since dashed) that it might prove any good.
But now additionally, all of a sudden, from nowhere, there are sections, titled with the same font as the standard ones that everybody sees (unless you specifically opt out), like “World” or “Business”, clearly culled (though very spottily) from my search history:

“Physics” [this, in addition to the “Sci/Tech” section that is standard]
“Computer Security”  [ditto]
“topological” [sic, this one lower-case; the relic of once search on the math topic; but results were flooded with engineering senses like “topological insulators”]
“yemen” [again lower-case -- bizarre]

That is marginally more concerning, since I didn’t ask for it, and since the selection is odd (I haven't searched on "topological" for well over a year).  But what is really hair-raising is that, here on, the section that I mostly log in for, namely “U.K.”,  has been entirely suppressed, and replaced by the same “U.S.” section (today’s top story on this supposedly U.K.-focussed site: “Headless body found in Texas Pick-up”).
Why they did that is baffling.  Certainly it bears no relation to my own clicking history (since that is the one and only section I ever click on at that site), let alone to common sense (suppress the U.K. section for someone specifically asking for
So now there are two countries whose press I cannot access via -- the other being Spain, which Google stopped indexing a while back, in (justified, IMO) protest against an overreaching law passed by the Spanish parliament.

[The Label for this piece La société du spectacle, a notion popularized by the situationistes half a century ago, and in the U.S. by Boorstin’s The Image and subsequent works..  All that has changed since then is that, increasingly, the spectacle we watched is an individualized peep-show booth.]


The decline in quality -- in sheer competence -- at the news outlets (television especially, but newspapers as well) over the past couple of decades, is noticeable.
An interesting perspective from the White House messaging guy:

“40 percent of newspaper-industry professionals have lost their jobs over the past decade … The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That’s a sea change. They literally know nothing.”


Facebook (which I never go near -- or anyhow, not knowingly) likewise pushes certain news stories over others, and has lately been embroiled in controversy over their slant.  To be fair, though, the company has been under intense pressure from the Rot-Grün-Merkel faction  to censor  not only news recommendations, but individual Facebook pages, cleansing them of opinions that dissent from the Willkommenseuphorie route to the destruction of Germany.  (We here at WDJ suffer, as you see, from no such bias.)

At another level -- more fundamental -- than that of issue-specific bias, is the general self-generated self-reflecting echo-of(echo-of(echo-of…)) incestuous nature of “trending” stories -- trending because they’re trending, like celebrities  famous for being famous.

-- Well, so long as we’re beating up on Facebook, we hereby huffily object to their far-from-adequate plugging of this blogspot, the “World of Dr Justice”, pourtant the most respected source of worldly and otherworldly insight apart from The Onion  (en revanche, we’re much funnier than they are).


In an interview the other day, an economist called the market position of entities like Amazon and Google, monopolies on a scale not seen since the days of the robber barons -- of Standard Oil and the railroads.   But while those behemoths primarily impacted our pocketbooks, the current cyber-masters are in a position to mess with our minds.
The comparison is obvious enough, once made;  but it is hard to wrap your heads around it, since monopolists (we are brought up knowing) are men in suits, with smokestack hats and villain whiskers -- not cheeky dudes in chinos.
All the economist could come up with, by way of remedy, was to somehow nationalize all that stuff, “Like the Post Office” -- a comparison less than reassuring.

The segment struck me  since, just the day before, none other than Donald Trump had brought up much the same point, in the process  pointing out that the agenda-drenched billionaire Bezos, the king of the Amazon, bought up (the bedraggled remains of) the Washington Post -- his new toy.  
For this Trump was sniffily dismissed by the knowing, as naïve and ill-informed.  (Much as Hillary and her minions dismissed candidate Obama as “naïve”.)

(Hey, just sayin';  credit where credit is due.)


  1. What I notice is the clumsiness and ad-aptitude of the whole thing. They peg me for lots of stuff I don't want and few things I do. Soon the whole mess will be recognized as the mess it is and dropped. I suggest that the true meaning of "newspaper--industry professionals" is "foolish dummies" which is what they always were, although perhaps more entertaining in the old days. Keep in mind that Murrow, Kronkite, Huntley and Brinkley were just reading words and ideas produced by others who were just not as attention-getting in their presentation as the afore-mentioned talking heads.

    1. Cronkite was at the very least to be credited with helping to shape the debate, in a spirit of gravitas. Murrow was before my time, but from what I have read he was a real player. And William Shirer was magnificent -- even if most of what he observed never made it into the newspapers, but into his own books:

  2. I use Flipboard. It isn't perfect but it allows me to set the parameters for the domestic news I receive. No doubt we cannot be passive about this.

  3. I have been searching for years for Hitchcock's (?) "Brain in a Jar"? TV episode...late 50's?... I remember it opening with the protagonist in a hospital bed reading a well known essential writings (?) edition of Nietzsche (black cover). I've searched extensively with Google...but to no avail. Help?

    1. Hmm, poking around YouTube, no such luck.
      But that classic episode is fondly recalled here:

  4. Yes, that's where I first caught your reference. Can you confirm the reading of Nietzsche in the first scene? If so, that's the episode that has remained with me for years...and I'll continue my search. I found a list of all the Hitchcock episodes at one time...I'll revisit that line of search. Thx, Dr. Dale