The efforts of Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other major websites to tailor our online experiences to our supposed interests can affect our ability to get a view of the world the way it really is. Instead, we are fed a view of the world that these organizations "think" we'd like to see. Google, Yahoo, Facebook and other websites use proprietary algorithms to "personalize" news for us -- that is, to select news they think we will like to see -- not to select news that challenges the user, contradicts his or her views or that the user would be unlikely to see. The algorithms work invisibly, so users have no way of knowing what the websites are editing out and preventing us from seeing. The algorithms pick information based on what we usually look at, resulting in a feedback loop that Internet guru Eli Pariser calls "autopropaganda" -- unknowingly indoctrinating yourself with your own views. If you and another person you don't know both perform a search on Google on the exact same term, you can both get shockingly different results, based on Google's analysis of what each of you usually look at. What this means is that Internet users essentially get an edited worldview based on personal information over which they have no control. The fact that this activity is hidden leaves users without the ability to seek out sources of information and news with which they are unfamiliar, that might challenge them or give them a broader view of the world.
On April 6, 2011, FOX News announced it would help Beck "transition" into other ventures, which include for-air projects and FOX News' websites. What the press release did not mention was the successful campaign against Beck initiated by Color of Change, an organization rooted in equal political access for people of color.
On the show Fox and Friends in 2009, Beck said that President Obama had a "deep seated hatred for white people." Color of Change began a petition appealing to Beck's advertisers to end their support, and within two days, reportedly 100,000 people had signed it. The current number of signatures, according to the group, now stands at 285,000 people. Organizations like Media Matters, MoveOn, CREDO Action and StopBeck joined Color of Change in petitioning Beck's advertisers to stop supporting the show.
Johnson County, Indiana deputy prosecutor and Republican activist Carlos Lam resigned from his job after the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism discovered an email he sent to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker suggesting the governor have an "associate" make a fake, violent attack to discredit union protesters and influence media coverage of the protests. Lam resigned shortly before the Center published a story containing excerpts of the email sent from Lam's account on February 19 praising Walker for standing up to unions and suggesting a "false flag" attack on Walker. Lam wrote,
...I think that the situation in Wisconsin presents a good opportunity for what's called a 'false flag' operation. If you could employ an associate who pretends to be sympathetic to the unions' cause to physically attack you (or even use a firearm against you), you could discredit the public unions. ... Employing a false flag operation would assist in undercutting any support the media may be creating in favor of the unions. God bless, Carlos F. Lam.
Lam denies writing the email, saying his email account was hacked. It would have been easy to verify whether his email account had been hacked by examining information that could be obtained from Hotmail and his Internet service provider, but Lam declined to reveal the provider's name to the Center so they could check out the hacking claim. This news follows an earlier admission by Governor Walker to a prank caller pretending to be David Koch of Koch Industries that he and his team had considered placing troublemakers in the crowd, but Walker claims to have rejected the idea for political considerations.
A FOX News station has been sent a notice of a proposed fine for airing fake news in the form of a "video news release" (VNR) without disclosing that the "news" segment featuring General Motors was produced to promote GM's cars.
As Jonathan Make reports in Communications Daily, the Federal Communications Commission has issued a notice of a proposed fine to FOX's Minneapolis affiliate for what amounted to a commercial for GM's convertibles masquerading as news. The VNR had been provided to the station by "FOX News Edge," which is described as "a news service for broadcast stations affiliated with the FOX Network."
Karl Rove's secretly-funded Crossroads GPS is spending $750,000 airing a terribly misleading ad attacking public-sector labor unions. With support declining for the GOP's anti-union stance, Rove's group is looking towards the 2012 elections and aiming to counteract that slide by unfairly demonizing unions.
On February 21, the New York Times created a stir in Wisconsin by printing a front page article giving the impression that union families supported Governor Scott Walker's attempt to remove collective bargaining rights from workers. On February 26, The Times retracted information related to this article.
The lead of the story, entitled "Union Bonds in Wisconsin Begin to Fray", featured a former Janesville General Motors employee Rich Hahn, who was characterized as "...a man who has worked at unionized factories, [and] a supporter of Gov. Scott Walker's sweeping proposal to cut the benefits and collective-bargaining rights of public workers." In the story reporters A.G. Sulzberger — said to be the son of New York Times Co. Chairman of the Board Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.— and Monica Davey spend very little time quoting Hahn but a lot of time characterizing him. "He says he still believes in unions, but thinks those in the public sector lead to wasteful spending because of what he sees as lavish benefits and endless negotiations," the story says of Hahn.
On February 28, the O'Reilly Factor aired a video news segment by Fox Channel reporter Mike Tobin, who was shown reporting from inside the state capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin. "News" footage aired during his broadcast of goings-on outside the capitol depicts an angry, out-of-control, crowd of pro-union protesters yelling and pushing people around. But the protesters in the video are wearing shirtsleeves and standing on a street lined with tall palm trees and other green, leafy foliage -- and that is absolutely not February in Madison, where no palm trees live outside of greenhouses and where temperatures have been well below freezing for most of the winter. Fox clearly used out-of-town footage to depict the "violence" it is hyping as happening in Madison. The segment is two minutes, nine seconds long, and the palm tree footage occurs at the 1:42 mark, as wording on the screen says "Union Protests."
Madison, Wisconsin -- The Associated Press (AP) has been covering the Wisconsin protests this past week, in a way.
With the wave of cutbacks at papers across the nation, big and small circulation papers rely on the AP for wire stories that are re-published in local papers. It describes itself as "the largest newsgathering organization" in the world. With few national outlets having reporters located in Madison or Wisconsin, the AP is a dominant vehicle for sharing information about what is happening in the state with the rest of nation. The AP is also the dominant news feeder for Yahoo News, and Yahoo is now one of the top five most-trafficked websites in the world. So it matters whether the AP is fairly covering the news, in the headlines and in the bodies of its stories. (The Center for Media and Democracy is on record as a strong critic of corporate media, like the AP.)
This month the Center for Media and Democracy will be making some great improvements to our free newsletter and email information service. We will also be changing the name from the "Weekly Spin" to "The Spin."
On February 11, 2011, after 30 years of dictatorship, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak announced he was stepping down. As ancient pharaohs slumbered inside, a crowd of over a million surrounded the rose-colored Cairo Museum setting off fireworks and jumping for joy as they peacefully forced a modern pharaoh to flee. This hopeful moment will be studied for years, and no topic will be more hotly debated than the role of social media in the uprising.