Truth Is Just Perception

A (Fantasy?) Proposal For The News Media

Hope keeps us going, but it’s like walking a tightrope.

The numerous information manipulations surrounding the conflict between Hamas and Israel, following the one between Russia and Ukraine, have led me to reflect on the role of the media in this regard.

I will certainly display great naivety, but it seems to me that there is a fairly simple method for preventing, to a large extent, the reporting of facts from turning into a debacle. This strategy is based on the collaborative approach used by news media to report on voluminous documents revealed by whistleblowers or unexpected leaks (e.g. Panama Papers, Facebook Papers). No single editorial team is able to decipher and synthesize thousands or even millions of pages, which is why journalistic consortia are formed to do the job. In the case of the Panama Papers, more than 100 media outlets from 72 countries worked together in this way. The teams involved use digital tools (Google Drive, Slack, etc.) that can give them the impression, for a time, of operating like a huge newsroom.

Why couldn’t such an alliance be formed, not to disclose information but to avoid publishing misinformation? As soon as a dubious scoop comes to light, the editorial heads of those media outlets would communicate in real-time over an encrypted messaging platform to agree not to spread hasty conclusions about it and to wait until a credible verification allows one of them to report what really happened. They would inform their audiences of their commitment to prioritize facts: “This event is under investigation. We will provide more details when the facts are established.”

This mechanism would help prevent the dissemination of false information thanks to a sanitary cordon established by the most reputable and widely followed news media outlets in the world, without hindering competition among them to expose the truth.

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The media strategy of most terrorists and dictators was shamelessly summarized by Steve Bannon, after leaving his position as Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist: “The Democrats don’t matter. The real opposition is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.” Unfortunately, the media don’t yet seem to have realized that, in the face of this assault on freedom, their role is crucial. And that it imposes a slowness that is certainly contrary to the times, but in keeping with ethics.

This patience will become even more crucial as developments in generative artificial intelligence will soon make it impossible to separate the journalistic wheat from the manipulative chaff. While the era of misinformation is only going to accelerate, information will have no choice but to slow down if it doesn’t want to disappear, especially since an existential risk to journalism represents a vital threat to democracy.

In the end, Paul Valéry was right: “Hope keeps us going, but it’s like walking a tightrope.

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