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What can currently be done about the "flooding the zone" issue?

by lahwran1 min read20th May 20205 comments

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Background that lead me to ponder this:

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/5/16/21258788/obamagate-trump-flynn-bannon-flood-the-zone

Does anyone have ideas for either of:

  • approaches to journalism that can be enacted quickly, and ideally independently, to clean up discourse, and which are plausibly compatible with the incentives journalists are currently under
  • ways to get information about this problem to enough people in the media

My current thinking is that journalists are following this incentive due to trying to satisfy a market generated by anxiety; it seems critical to me, in designing the update feed of a media source in the current age, that that media source be engaging for users - regardless of media type: for example, 3blue1brown seems to me to be evidence that creating engaging math educational content is very possible.

Can news be written in such a way that it does the useful jobs of news, while also avoiding the flooding issue? my guess is that the bad things need to be a footnote, considered to be chaff thrown to distract. Can informational/news sites be laid out differently to better organize the information people need to see? Can journalists use different habits for seeking out information to inform others of? etc.

I'm looking for brainstorming on how to structure communication to eliminate this class of attack on the communications ecosystem, and brainstorming on who to get involved in order to get the communications ecosystem to that point as fast as possible.

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"Flooding the Zone" appears to be to be deliberate, and rampant across the whole of journalism.

I doubt it has anything to with "trying to satisfy a market generated by anxiety"; rather, it's a case of "our ends are noble and good, justifying victory by any means necessary".

Looking at the above-linked publication on The Russian "Firehose of Falsehood" Propaganda Model, we see the following characteristics:

  • High-Volume and Multichannel. Text, video, audio, and still imagery propagated via the Internet, social media, satellite television, and traditional radio and television broadcasting.

  • Rapid, Continuous, and Repetitive. Propagandists do not need to wait to check facts or verify claims; they just disseminate an interpretation of emergent events that appears to best favor their themes and objectives.

  • Makes No Commitment to Objective Reality. False statements are more likely to be accepted if backed by evidence, even if that evidence is false.

  • Not Committed to Consistency. Potential losses in credibility due to inconsistency are potentially offset by synergies with other characteristics of contemporary propaganda.

Pretty sure Vox ticks every one of those boxes just as thoroughly as Breitbart does.

As a small case-in-point: consider the Mass Shooting Tracker, which Vox cites regularly in articles, videos, and infographics.

Feel free to click around for yourself, read the linked articles, and estimate what percentage of those you would consider to be a "mass shooting".

To give some idea of the statistical bankruptcy, according to the above site, there have been 120 "mass shootings" in the United States so far in 2020, with a median fatality rate of... zero.

High-volume fake evidence for multi-channel fake news.

Sadly, I don't see a way to fix this, either.

"Flooding the zone" is straight out of the Russian disinformation playbook:

https://www.rand.org/pubs/perspectives/PE198.html (Disclosure: I worked with him on a couple of semi-related projects at RAND,)

Unfortunately, we don't have great answers for how to respond.

3 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:21 PM

So, to be clear, Vox is very much part of the problem. Vox co-founder Matt Yglesias has openly said that he wants "wrong right-wing ideas to be discredited while wrong left-wing ideas gain power" in order to shift the US policy status quo to the left. In other words, Vox wants to tell their own narrative, and the President is better at getting his narrative out there than they are.

This doesn't mean that what's going on here isn't a problem, it is. But a solution to these sorts of media issues and incentives is going to need to address Vox's own misbehavior and related concerns as well.

I don't yet have good ideas, but I roughly agree with the framing of the problem here, and solving it does seem to be one of the more important problems facing humanity this couple-decades.

It seems to me that ordinary people are usually obsessed with scandals and drama, so I think Occam's Razor says that journalists are also obsessed with them and report on them because that's what they want to do. That is, I don't think all journalists are secretly wishing they could ignore Donald Trump but regrettably recognize that their incentives point in another direction -- I think they enjoy reporting on Donald Trump, so they do it.