The Attention Economy and Fake Mainstream News

by Dr. Rick Kirschner on June 27, 2017

John Oliver’s pHARMa-propaganda-and-lies tirade about vaccines and those who dare question them motivated me to share what follows (and to tune out one more loudmouth from my TV viewing.)

Too often I have the thought that it’s no longer the age of information, it’s the age of narrative in service to the ‘Attention Economy.’ Facts are increasingly irrelevant when placed next to rumors and anonymous sources saying scandalous things. . Investigation into claims made by advertisers (this includes political parties now) is irrelevant when you can have scary talking points from advertisers with agendas pushing their products and plans through anger and fear. What matters most is getting and holding attention. Clearly, pitting people against each other through false narratives is more effective when journalism fails.

It appears to me that many of the big narratives we are exposed to daily now are crafted for just this purpose. And while ‘Look, a squirrel’ distractions multiply, all kinds of terrible things are happening that involve money and power and almost nobody in the press seems to notice or care.

Some of this isn’t new, just the scope of it is. The media has, for well over 100 years, served both it’s customers and its advertisers, and when having to choose, not honestly. You can see the failure of the press in presidential contests from a century ago. You can see their failure in the destruction of the Pure Food and Drug act, as they printed the narrative that served their advertisers and shut out voices that sought to counter that narrative. But it’s gotten worse as the number of media outlets multiplied and then consolidated under essentially 6 owners. Now information customers have simply dropped to the bottom of that ecosystem. Now it’s all about eyeballs and advertisers, and the outrage machinery exists to facilitate that connection.

Meanwhile, more and more quality information is disappearing at a faster rate, or so it seems to me. I do research projects on occasion (most recently on the true history of medicine and how we got this sick sickcare system that is killing people at extraordinary rates), and it’s more difficult to get facts now than it used to be, at least that’s how it seems to me. When the internet began, everything was accessible. Maybe if I did good ole’ investigative work using microfiche, I could still find what I’m after, but I’m too lazy in my retirement years, because, search engines, right?! Paywalls, subscriptions, members only…the network of information is disappearing behind a network of unscalable walls. The political system, just like the media system, seems to have little interest in serving we the people, seems instead only interested in serving itself.

Our country is pulling itself apart with little care for preserving the best of what got us here, and a damnable determination to contribute to the growing divide.

With increasing frequency these days, I’m thinking ‘Turn on (your mind, turn off the telly), tune in (to friends, community, and opportunity to do some good), drop out (of following the horridly false news cycle and political addiction that is tearing the country apart)’ is seeming like wisdom again. But my conscience won’t let me completely do it.

I was telling a friend just the other day that if I’m silent, I feel complicit in allowing wrongs to continue, but if I speak up, I’m in an echo chamber that is occasionally visited by agenda driven trolls. Rational discussion? Fuggedaboutit, every issue is too charged. They say Pick your battles, so I have. But I feel my own neglect of other things, and it’s a burden.

I continue to think that we the people have much more in common than anyone watching our politics and press could believe.  How do we ever come back from the landscape created by our irresponsible press and unaccountable politics?   I’m open to ideas!

Be well


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