By ann summers
Trump’s gaslight will power an entire nation.
Trump’s still emitting Bill Shiney objects because having one media empire (Murdoch’s) as his personal press agent, driving memes to its media brethren, is not enough. There should be only one tiny hand on the gaslight, and that hand guides the bone saw.
Trump tells AP he won’t accept blame if GOP loses House
Trump was asked yesterday if he would accept any responsibility in the event that Republicans lose the House of Representatives in the midterm elections.
“No, I think I’m helping people,” Trump responded. “They would say that in the old days that if you got the support of a president or if you’ve got the support of somebody it would be nice to have, but it meant nothing, zero. Like literally zero. Some of the people I’ve endorsed have gone up 40 and 50 points just on the endorsement.”
A gaslight monopoly can happen here, especially as Trump and his de facto Saudi ambassador, Kushner, think they can buy their way out of trouble (remember how Jarvanka wanted to bribe Planned Parenthood into giving up abortion procedures).
Jamal Khashoggi’s last editorial piece applies not just to the Arab world, the tactics have that family resemblance to the land of Bill Shiney objects. It can happen here.
The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011. Journalists, academics and the general population were brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society within their respective countries. They expected to be emancipated from the hegemony of their governments and the consistent interventions and censorship of information. These expectations were quickly shattered; these societies either fell back to the old status quo or faced even harsher conditions than before.
My dear friend, the prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, wrote one of the most famous columns ever published in the Saudi press. He unfortunately is now serving an unwarranted five-year prison sentence for supposed comments contrary to the Saudi establishment. The Egyptian government’s seizure of the entire print run of a newspaper, al-Masry al Youm, did not enrage or provoke a reaction from colleagues. These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.
As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate. There was a time when journalists believed the Internet would liberate information from the censorship and control associated with print media. But these governments, whose very existence relies on the control of information, have aggressively blocked the Internet. They have also arrested local reporters and pressured advertisers to harm the revenue of specific publications.
Press suppression is information suppression and like gaslighting, is an active measure to raise disinformation levels and drive the masses toward a singular, hegemonic belief system.
It wasn’t until late 2015 that we began to see “gaslighting” applied to Trump. Among the first to do so was conservative pundit Matt K. Lewis, in a November 2015 article for the Telegraph: “Any introspective person covering Mr Trump will eventually have to grapple with whether or not they want to believe The Donald or their lying eyes.”
And then, even some psychologists took up the idea, drawing parallels between Trump’s actions and the classic tricks of gaslighting — such as undermining the victim’s perspective, controlling the topic of conversation and forcefully denying the truth.
Leah McElrath, a psychotherapist and political activist, analyzed Trump’s quasi-apology after the release of the notorious “Access Hollywood” video in which he made vulgar comments bragging about assaulting women.
Trump’s insistence that “these words do not reflect who I am” amounted to gaslighting, McElrath wrote — similar to the language she’s heard from domestic abusers — effectively telling the public that “the reality you just experienced didn’t actually happen.” (Her Twitter thread on the subject was retweeted thousands of times.)
- Fox Business: “We’re not going to walk away from Saudi Arabia.”
- Trump: “I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that. I do not want to do that.”
- Fox Biz asks Trump if anyone has ever tried taking his phone away. Trump says he doesn’t think he’d get to be on Fox as much if that happened.
How was the rest of the Götterdämmerung, Mrs. Goebbels?
In her latest provocation, Resistance is Futile! How the Trump-Hating Left Lost Its Collective Mind, Coulter argues that progressives, by responding hysterically to Trump, play into his hand. And “the contempt the Democrats have for ordinary people, for what they call ‘deplorables’?” she tells me. “You’ve got to flip that around.”
But she still loves Trump for his ability to antagonize progressives and the media – whose tendency to overreact, she argues, is what always saves him. This is terrain that Coulter, more than almost anyone, understands.
Or as she once put it: “When the spittle starts coming from liberals’ mouths, you know you have struck gold.”
Inevitably, and because of the information asymmetries, public or private, attention should be paid to the political economy of speech.
In short, the First Amendment, as currently interpreted by federal courts, may be of relatively little help in securing the practical ability to speak through the privately-owned digital infrastructures of communication. To be sure, the First Amendment may be of limited help when the state tries to employ privately-owned infrastructure as its tool for speech regulation and surveillance—what I refer to below as “new-school” speech regulation. But in some cases the judicially created doctrines of the First Amendment—wrongly interpreted and extended—may actually be a positive hindrance to freedom of speech online.
A sixth reform, and one I’ve emphasized especially in recent work, is treating digital media companies as information fiduciaries toward their clients and end-users. As information fiduciaries, digital companies should have duties of care, confidentiality and loyalty toward the people whose data they collect, store, and use.
The scope of these duties will vary depending on the nature of the digital business; again, I’ve written in detail about these issues elsewhere. But if you want a simple example of what difference the concept of information fiduciaries would make, take a look at the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal. It’s important to focus not only on the particular example of Facebook’s negligence in dealing with Alexsandr Kogan and Cambridge Analytica, but also on the ensuing revelations: Facebook’s practices were merely the tip of a far larger iceberg—a series of unwise decisions through which Facebook allowed its business partners to access its end-users’ social graphs. In my view, Facebook probably violated all three duties of care, confidentiality and loyalty. Facebook did not take sufficient care to vet its business partners, it breached its duties of confidentiality toward its end users, and it allowed its end-users to be manipulated by its business partners.
Why are these reforms important? Some of them directly protect free speech against public and private governance. But the indirect effects, I think, are equally important. The central way to protect freedom of expression in the digital age is to alter the political economy of free expression. That means reforming the business models of digital companies—because these methods of making money, in effect, are how we pay for the public sphere. The current cost of digital free speech these days is submission to digital surveillance and private governance. Nation states, realizing this, have piggybacked on the governing capacities of digital infrastructure companies to achieve their regulatory goals.
For this reason, I expect that three of the six reforms mentioned above will prove the most important in the long run. The first is limiting new-school speech regulation, because this restricts nation states’ abilities to leverage the capacities of digital infrastructure companies to do governments’ dirty work for them. The second is antitrust and competition law, because they can chip away at the current advertising-based and monopolization-of-attention models that have caused many of the greatest problems with social media. The third is treating digital companies as information fiduciaries, who have duties of care, confidentiality and loyalty to their end-users. This last reform is especially important because it will limit the ability of digital infrastructure companies to organize their business models around the surveillance, manipulation and abuse of end-users.
Gaslighters are more likely to produce “fake News”, where utterance of the term “Fake News” may be the greatest indicator that the utterer is a producer of such “fake News”.
In the aftermath of the most recent presidential election in the United States, political pundits started to search for an explanation of an election result which most of them ex ante considered highly unlikely, and ex post highly unfortunate. The main culprit identified in the debate so far is fake news. A brief definition of fake news, as discussed here, is that information without factual basis is disseminated on purpose, in order to pursue some political agenda (note that a roughly similar definition has entered the most recent 27th edition of the German Duden Dictionary). Fake news does, on the other hand, not include political satire, unintentional errors,or the relatively innocent dissemination of rumours. Clearly, it is not always easy to discern between fake news and, for example, an unintentional error in every single case.
In sum, the evidence available so far indicates that persuasion of citizens through the media is not as straightforward as more naive accounts of the problem suggest. Citizens do account for the source and the intention of biased news, and they do have a tendency to look for news that confirms their pre-existing beliefs. The latter aspect is of course not always a good thing; citizens who are relatively resilient against persuasion may also resist changing their views when they are demonstrably false. By all accounts, the idea of a simple stimulus-response scheme where voters are easily influenced by media content does not hold up to the evidence. When it comes to fake news in a narrow sense, the most ambitious empirical study so far is Allcott and Gentzkow (2017). It is widely accepted that the 2016 presidential election in the United States suffered from the most massive onslaught of fake news so far (e.g. Persily 2017), and there are also scholars who argue that fake news – along with the suspension of other informal norms of democratic competition – was chiefly responsible for the outcome. However,these conjectures are generally not substantiated with quantitative, causal evidence, but follow from plausible applications of theoretical arguments. In contrast, Allcott and Gentzkow use a database of fact-checked fake news stories that have appeared during the election campaign. Of these stories, 115 supported Trump and 41 supported Clinton. The former stories were shared around 30 million times, the latter only 7.6 million times. These data clearly support the claim that the Trump camp was more active in the production and dissemination of fake news, but they also show that the Clinton camp did not abstain from this practice either.
Allcott, H. and M. Gentzkow (2017), Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election, Journal of EconomicPerspectives Vol. 31, S. 211-236.
Persily, N. (2017), Can Democracy Survive the Internet?, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 28, S. 63-76