The Thursday Blog: FOX World Edition

Every so often a new study pops up comparing the knowledge base of the FOX News viewership to some other group or groups on the big news items of the past year. These other groups have been watchers of other news programs, people who get all of their news from comedy shows, and most recently people who do not consume any news whatsoever. ( In every instance, regular viewers of FOX News have been shown to be less informed about the events than, well… anyone. In fact, they are not only under informed, they are actually misinformed. The facts of the world that these viewers live in no longer match the reality of the rest of the world.

This is obviously not a new phenomena, and this is not an article about FOX News. But Fox’s “news” organization does highlight the inherent dangers presented in the very similar way that the internet is being presented to all of us. (Thought you were safe just because you get your news online? Think again.) Google, Bing, Facebook, and many, many more are filtering the content you see in an effort to provide you with a better experience. They watch the items you typically look at and then make an effort to push aside the things they believe you don’t want to see. Like say, opinions that disagree with yours. The longer this goes on, the more “out of phase” each of us become with the facts and realities of the world outside of out immediate sight. In effect, we each become viewers of our own “FOX News,” tailored to specifically provide us with the worldview that the corporate search algorithms think we most want to see.

Think about this the next time you find yourself in a political debate with someone who still thinks Obama is a Kenyan.

So what can you do? According to The Filter Bubble, there is no one best way to handle the problem, although they do have some suggestions. First is deleting your cookies, which track the sites you visit and report back to the originator of the cookie. Second is to keep your web history erased. Google and sites like it can, will, and do read this file right off of your computer and use it to filter what you see.

The third suggestion is sort of a losing battle, but do what you can to keep your Facebook information private. Facebook is a clearinghouse of their users’ personal information, (remember, if you’re not paying for it, you aren’t the consumer, you’re the product.) selling you to anyone with money. Unfortunately even if you are as tight as possible with your privacy settings, Facebook is in the habit of resetting them occasionally to the “default,” or “chronically public” defaults… all without telling you. You are much better off never putting anything on Facebook you are not 100% comfortable with everyone on the entire planet knowing.

Fourth, The Filter Bubble suggests removing what may seem to be the most innocuous of all pieces of personal information about yourself from the dizzying array of online sites that ask for it… your birthday. As it turns out, this innocent seeming tidbit is one of the most common “keys” for tracking your identity. There may be a thousand Jacob Browns in the country, but how many were born on the fifth of January? Three? Maybe even just one.

Your next options revolve around your browser. Most current browsers have an incognito mode you can enable to retard the internet’s ability to collect information about you and slap a rose tint on your computer screen. Many, such as Chrome, IE9, Firefox, and Safari also have plugins that dispose of cookies and log you out of websites (like Google and Facebook) that track your movements as long as you have an active login.

None of these are perfect, and none of them are complete. Used together, you stand a much better chance of getting a more realistic view of the world around you without someone else deciding for you what you should and should not see. It is true that some people will not care that this is happening. Some people will even become angry if they are exposed to points of view that differ from their own. But this isn’t about them, it’s about you.

Before we can come to the table over our most contentious issues, we must first agree what the facts are. As long as both sides are receiving differently filtered realities, we can’t even do that. How can we settle our problems when we can neither agree to their causes or even what they are?

Can you point to the corporate computer that you feel comfortable with allowing to make the decisions about what you should and should not be permitted to know? Because I can’t.

33 Responses to The Thursday Blog: FOX World Edition

        • A Marxist? Wow… just wow… I didn’t know that it was this bad Kevin. This explains so clearly why there are people who actually support Sarah Palin in your country.

          • I did not say he was a Marxist. I did say he was to the left of Keynes. I did say he was closer to Keynes than to Marx. If that is skirting too close to Godwin’s Law, my apologies and I withdraw the statement.

            • No, no. It’s not that I think it’s insulting. It’s that I think it is so wrong I don’t even have a clue what misinformation it might take to make you say such a thing.
              Keynes was all against the unregulated stock market that caused the great depression and he wouldn’t have supported the Obamacare debacle that turned American public healthcare into private profit for the insurance industry as guaranteed by public law. Marxists when faced with the bank crisis that he did at the beginning of his term would have nationalized any bank that was threatening to be a problem and arranged show trials for the executives that ended with either execution or jail. Keynes would have probably done some form of bailout and limited nationalization of troubled institutions: He was legendarily intolerant of investors gambling with anybody’s money but their own so he would have made the stockholders, directors and executives in control of those institutions FEEL THE PAIN which they never did. He would have also made a quick recall of Glass-Steagall (which was originally strongly influenced by Keynes) and no small number of other measures to control the waste and corruption in the overall finance system.

              Instead: Obama’s sign-off on the Geithner handling there puts him in Ronald Reagan territory of deregulation at all costs except where it’s a program that sponsors his kickback-honeys more (like with Obamacare giving yet more money to big pharma and insurance industries and Reagan with Star Wars). It is widely acknowledged that the finance legislation enacted in the wake of the 2007-2008 collapse are so leaky that they may as well have not been passed: Neither Marxists nor Keynes would approve.

              • Most people who consider themselves “Keynesians” today know almost nothing about the actual man or what he believed. The modern Keynesian economic model is derived almost entirely from a single “thought experiment” Keynes wrote of exactly once, where he posited a market where greed drove innovation, pushed down prices to be more competitive, and actually served the public consumer. However, in the same paper where he wrote this, Keynes said that while instances of this happening could be pointed to, greed was not a stabilizing market force and that this was an idealized construct.

                Today’s Keynesians believe that it means leaving the market completely unfettered to do as it will. As AC correctly points out, actual Keynesian thought was anything but.

              • Not a bad analogy at all. Reagan’s Star Wars nonsense also broke an economy — only it was the Soviet economy that collapsed before the American one did. Hence, he “won” the Cold War because the US economy was strong enough to survive the massive buildup of debt (and hence drain on all future budgets) and cash flow (and hence pressure toward inflation). The other side broke first, only it was an ecomomic collapse and not a military one. And fortunately his immediate successors (Clinton and Gingrich, both philanderers and both centrists in opposing parties, interesting coincidence) deserve credit for balancing the budget and steering the US economy back away from the precipice. For a while.
                That is history. This is opinion. Obama and his allies are also targeting an economy, and intending to break it by forcing it beyond what it can handle. An economy they want to replace with a new one more to their liking. Hope and Change.

                • Yeah, those bankers are really hopeful they can get some honest to goodness legalized white slaves to rest their feet on before his presidency is over.

    • I don’t have Facebook.
      I’m not on MySpace either.
      I don’t even have a Twitter, or a personal blog (well, I tried starting one one a local German roleplaying site, but never got past two articles), or a website.
      I wipe my cache, I disabled all logging of passwords and typed in search words in my browser, and I don’t keep cookies beyond the closing of the browser window, and I wipe my browsing history from time to time.

      I do frequent forums, but some time to time I lose interest and move somewhere else, under a new alias.

      And it’s not because I am paranoid about keeping my information off the Net so that The Man won’t find it … although compared to what I’m hearing about the USA, many Germans *do* hold pretty strong hands-off-out-private-information views about data collection and storage of private data by corporations and the government, fearing “den gläsernen Bürger” (the transparent Citizen). German’s news magazine DER SPIEGEL just ran a lead article on the power of the Net over our lives, on stuff like FAcebook and Google’s new Life Chronic, and the economic wars between the four biggest corps on who will conquer the market for the various online communities and technical gadgets like iPhone-equivalents and Facebook-equivalents.

      No, it’s just… most things I want to say have already been said by someone else. And I’m lazy, I guess, or I don’t give a shit about being “connected”. I don’t feel the world needs to know ME.

      But when it’s all said and done, I shop at Amazon, and I use Google, so the corporations already have a bunch of data on me.

  1. Thanks for a very good post.

    It is probably stupid, but, although I try to keep my navigation secrete (note to people: the Ghostery Firefox extension is a great tool), I never thought profiling would extend to information (which is, in hindsight, naive)

    • Yeah, it’s pretty eye-opening. But they need the information in order to profile you, in order to filter what you see. Cut off the info, and you will get totally new search results.

      • search results offer a limited justification of the practice. If you are looking for something specific, you want the most germane hits to come up first; filtering tends to order search results toward your goal. However if you are searching for more general information, filtering biases the result.

        • I think I disagree. If I’m looking for apples, I want a good apple at a good price. I don’t care about the politics or religion of the grower, even if they are on his website. And what if I am specifically looking for something that the search algorithms indicate I wouldn’t be interested in? No, I don’t really care what the rational is, I don’t want anyone but me determining what I see.

          • On the other hand, Kevin, we do need some form of search algorithms to navigate the vastness of the Net and filter out all the 90% crap. I still remember the 1990s, the days of Altavista search engine, when searches usually returned a lot of crap before you found something you were looking for. Bit like playing Chinese Whispers with tha bunch of hard-of-hearing Martians and trying to explain to the 10th Martian down the row what you’re looking for.

            • I don’t mind computers intelligently interpreting my search terms, or even having to go back and provide better terms if a search goes wonky. I DO mind it when I ask for “solutions to global climate change” and I get back six pages of how it doesn’t exist because my search engine has decided I’m a Republican.

  2. I love “remember, if you’re not paying for it, you aren’t the consumer, you’re the product”. Well said : )

    Great post, very informative and definitely something I will watch for in the future.

    I usually get my infos via… the radio of my car. It is the only moment of my day I have that is dedicated to it ; )

    • And there is certainly nothing wrong with that. I guess the point I was trying to make (and should have said above) is that before we can come to the table over our most contentious issues, we must first agree what the facts are. As long as both sides are receiving differently filtered realities, we can’t even do that.

      I’m a go back and add that…

    • That was my favorite quote, too. Of course, it’s kind of a capitalistic or libertarian way of stating it, but it is literal truth. (And I say that as a supporter of both capitalism and most libertarian planks.)

      • “And I say that as a supporter of both capitalism and most libertarian planks.”

        Well I’m not. But the quote is still to-the-point.

  3. I’m all for limiting how much guiding and filtering I get from anyone, and how much they are able to track my movements and tastes. Anyone I’m not in a family or close friend relationship with. I appreciate the information you supplied. But I’m not sure the issue is as big as it’s being made. Most of my news I get from the radio (Fox News and NPR) on the way to work, and the internet (Fox News, CNN and the Huffington Post links off AOL) while at work. When you skip the drek and skim past the rhetoric, the facts tend to be pretty much the same. And I’ve read some surprisingly open-minded editorials on Fox News and anti-left and anti-big-government op-ed pieces on CNN.
    And it IS easy to, even unintentionally, selectively choose poll responses that support your position. If you do it intentionally, you get things like Leno’s Man on the Street interviews. At least, by all that is holy and much that is not, I HOPE those aren’t truly representative of the average American. Just like I hope the contestants on Jeff Foxworthy’s “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader” are selected precisely because they aren’t.

  4. The easiest solution to the problem I find is to look up what’s going on in the area of interest in the news local to some other place. I.E. don’t trust American newspapers and other media to tell the truth about America.

  5. You have to read a broad selection of news in order to understand the truth, most people just settle for what they initially hear or read and fail to question the facts, and Fox is just so EXCITING! I feel like I could die at any moment when I watch it!

  6. Was it not ever thus? Long before the internet, if you read a story about a plane crash it says “20 Americans dead” and if I read it it says “2 Britons killed.” Before you had Google filters you had national filters, and religious filters, subconscious (and sometimes very conscious) propaganda machines presenting opinions as unarguable facts, and dismissing opposing views (such as, for the longest time, atheism) to the extent they were virtually non-existant, certainly non-tenable in polite society. (I’m talking about Europe here, I think in America atheism is pretty much where it was in the 14th century. Or maybe my British news providers just revel in reporting the excesses of American culture?).

    Of course before the internet it wasn’t our unique consumer potential these machines were trying to harvest, it was our eternal souls, and our patriotic willingness to be cannon-fodder, to defend to the death the things our country told us it stood for.