Tuesday, May 15, 2018

“fake news”

This is Section a of “Fake views exploit the appeal of valid drama.”

news: “a report of a recent event, new information, fresh tidings” (Merriam-Webster Unabridged online).

But that standard definition doesn’t indicate the most defining aspect of news: the report or the information is allegedly important. Reporting as news implies a claim of urgency. The report is not only confidently evidential, but the act of reporting can be credibly postured as a sharing of importance or urgency about something confidently evidential (not just dramatically appealing). The medium may posture itself as a reliable source of importance, thus being a news medium.

(Implicit to a report of news is a distinction between facticity and factuality, though the two are commonly confused. Both are confidently evidential, but factuality pertains to formal certifiability by replicable method.

Facticity pertains to reliable assertability based on common knowledge or informal determination, such as the multiple source standard in journalism, or reliable eyewitness accounting.

We normally have good reason to regard facticity as so-called “factuality.”

At best, an assertion can be methodically established in a formally-recountable way—be scientifically valid—but that’s not usually feasible.

And scientificity is commonly not absolute certainty. It’s, at best, significant assertability relative to a statistical confidence level in terms of methodic apprehensibility.)
A report may be new information, but isn’t important. New information that’s not regarded as important isn’t news. Proffering importance is essential for a news claim about information.

A report may not be new information, but it’s important. That’s not news. That’s a reminder of what’s known to be important.

A news claim that is mistakenly false is not thereby fakery. But the source exposes its claim to credibility. Found to be doing a false report, the source either corrects its implicit claim to being a credible source, or it loses credibility as a voice of importance.

Not-yet-exposed false reporting (postured as valid reporting) that knows that it’s invalid expresses fakery. Fakery is not unwittingly false reporting; it’s false reporting that willfully postures itself and its medium as reliable source of important new information.

So, “fake news” is a numinous notion because it has no definite sense alone, but gains sense in context.

Importantly (if not urgently) postured narrative may be true, but it’s not news, not valuable. A phony pretense of urgency for true reports is fake news in that sense. News as show business (video media such as ABC World News) is primarily concerned with capturing and sustaining attention between pre-sold ads.

Importantly postured narrative may be untrue, but dramatically appealing—tantilizing, but fictional—and not claiming to be documentary revelation. We love to entertain (and to be entertained by) narrative that postures itself as fictional “news.” Docudrama plays with the difference appealingly. Parody and satire play with relativities of validity. Calling any of that fake news is silly.

Importantly postured narrative may be true and contain news, but is conveyed through opinion (urgency of evaluative posture) that is not merely reportorial. So, the news is framed. The frame may imply principled (good faith) regard for audience or unprincipled regard (e.g., being propagandistic).

Calling informed opinion news is a misnomer that should distinguish what’s news in the opinion from the evaluative commentary. The opinion piece itself isn’t fake news. But opinion that depends on false information is invalid opinion, no matter how deserving of the principled stance toward that information.

The journal Science recently published a review of the academic literature on “fake news,” bylined by 16 authors, which viewed “the defining element of fake news to be the intent and processes of the publisher” [March 2018; hereafter: source A; or “[A]” after a quote]. “We define ‘fake news’ to be fabricated information that mimics news media content in form but not in organizational process or intent.” Note that the definition merges the difference between action (“fabricated...mimics...media...in form...”) and content of action (“...information...content...”). Fakery enacts a kind of relationship (ungenuine) which has a kind of content (false). This may seem obvious, but the difference implies three kinds of validity claim: facticity (or factual—”truth functional,” in semantics); transparency (or genuineness; “intent”); and standards-bearing (normativity; “organizational process”). “Fake-news outlets, in turn, lack the news media's editorial norms and processes for ensuring the accuracy and credibility of information” [A].

A typology suggests itself: “Fake news overlaps with other information disorders, such as misinformation (false or misleading information) and disinformation (false information that is purposely spread to deceive people)” [A]. Beyond that: One study included in the Science review—a comprehensive study of Twitter over its entire history, up to 2017 (a statistical study which is the keynote of that issue of Science)—is criticized for “blur[ring] together a wide range of false information: outright lies, urban legends, hoaxes, spoofs, falsehoods, and ‘fake news’” (Atlantic Monthly, March 2018; hereafter: source B or “[B]”)

But the Science review doesn’t suggest a discret typology.

An interesting study from 2017, which the Science review doesn’t cite, examined use of the rubric ‘fake news’ in 34 articles between 2003 and 2017, from which the authors derived a twofold typology (“low-to-high intention to deceive” vs. “low-to-high level of facticity”) covering six varieties of narrative: news satire, news parody, fabrication, manipulation, advertising, and propaganda.

Click image for larger view.

That typology is congruent with the Science study. The entirety of this can be articulated in terms of degrees of 3-fold validity, as basis for evaluating narratives analytically. Those modes of validity correspond to components of speech acts: intention of action, “locutionary” (referential, content), and illocutionary (interpersonal, appeal). Instrumental effect (informing, instructing—misleading, manipulating) is understood in speech act theory as “perlocutionary effect.” I don’t mean to get into linguistic analysis, but the correlation of issues of “fake news” narrative with aspects of linguistic acts in general (intent [genuiness], relationality [appropriateness], and reference [factuality]) can be useful.

A malicious effect (perlocutionary, rhetorical, and instrumentalist effect) of news fakery (in form and content) is to undermine the credibility of media that are mimiced, i.e., having not only a misleading potential, relative to its own content, but a de-legitimating effect relative to the media that are mimiced. Being unreliable, news fakery is doubly unethical in its dramatic appeal: “...[T]he intersection of misinformation and mimicry of traditional news media...is parasitic on standard news outlets, simultaneously benefiting from and undermining their credibility” [A].

An astute critical sense of narrative can involve not only the pragmatics of communication, but the instrumentalism of the dramactional frame, i.e., the self-concealing intent, backgrounding a rhetoric of appeal, that delegitimizes its kindred “theater.”

Next: Section 3b: “feeling for story: dramatic appeal (value) in emotional novelty