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fake news

Abigail C. Keane Article MICRO CHANGES - JAN/FEB 2019

When Fake News Creeps Up on You

Written by Abigail C. Keane

With the emergence of new media, that is, the Internet and all its glorious new forms of communication, the way individuals obtain and spread information has undergone changes beyond what was imaginable a few decades ago. An especially concerning issue is the way we now receive news – if in the past, it was mostly through well-known credible traditional news sources or somewhat questionable gossip, these days, there are millions of unvetted websites uploading and posting news stories that aren’t always 100% truthful (if at all). However, the real problem lies in the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate what constitutes a credible source and reliable information. It has gotten to the point where even known news sites, such as the BBC, are publishing articles on how to spot fake news.

A Brief History of Journalism

The evolution of modern day journalism essentially hinges of the 1947 Commission on Freedom of the Press, also known as the Hutchins Commission, because that was a key step to forming standardized journalistic practices and principles of ethics. After World War II, it became apparent that the freedom of the press was at risk as it was susceptible to the influence of the government and economic power; influence manifests itself in the form of propaganda or advertising.

The main reason changes needed to be implemented, according to the Commission, was to invigorate the press to act as a watchdog and present relatively unbiased news that could criticize the state or other major stakeholders. This idea, calling the media the Fourth Estate, ultimately aimed to protect democracy by preventing external powers from affecting what gets into the news and what doesn’t, how it is presented, etc. Overall, it was a way to ensure that civil society had a voice and that balanced political discourse could persevere.

The point: let truthfulness and accuracy reign in the media.

Photo by Thomas Charters

Regulation and the New Media

This was all well and good while traditional media worked relatively independently and with the established principles of ethics in mind. For instance, in the UK, the vast majority of publication houses (including the media giant Immediate Media Co) are regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). Thus, if there are accuracy issues, privacy breaches and such, these problems are addressed by IPSO, and media companies are held accountable.

While it may be true that such regulating practices have their limits, the new media landscape, especially social media, seems to lack such regulation altogether. At the moment, regulation is mainly restricted to matters of hate speech and (age) inappropriate content – even then, not all posts get flagged down.

So, what happens to all the fake news being posted online? Well, mostly nothing. It may get shot down by reasonable individuals commenting under such posts, but removing such information from social media has much broader and complicated implications. Ultimately, regulation policies and codes of ethics are lagging behind the rapid changes occurring in the news and media, changes we haven’t really noticed or paid enough attention to until recently.

The Irony of Democracy

Currently, the main debate taking place is: should we censor fake news? While some countries, such as Egypt, address that question head-on by saying “YES,” other states are in chaos, not knowing how to deal with the problem. The reason fake news censorship is considered so dangerous is that it gives the government, or some other regulatory body, the power to decide what constitutes true and false information. Taken to the worst case scenario, that could imply tyrannical control over speech – a big no-no for democracy.

Thus, we are now at a point where many of us want change, but we are afraid of it – and rightly so.

The concerns being brought up by free speech advocates and lobby groups, though often self-serving, are by no means blown out of proportion. The means through which governments would try to protect democracy, that is, through censorship, could fundamentally undermine democracy itself.

Photo by Randy Colas

Power to the People

There seem to be two paths leading forward: let states censor fake news or let fake news run loose. What many don’t realize is that there’s at least one more option – let the people take action.

Social media doesn’t abide by the rules of traditional media and presents challenges that are seemingly impossible to tackle in tandem with democratic values. Maybe social media, in its current form and with all its flaws, holds the key. Instead of relying on some authority to solve the problem, individuals can call out and denounce fake news posts and sources by themselves. For instance, we can report posts that contain false information – an action many are already taking.

What is more important, and necessary, to correctly identify fake news stories is to critically evaluate them and stop believing everything you read on the Internet. Instead of just blindly trusting whatever information is thrown your way and re-posting that shit, take a minute, do some more research – get your facts straight!

Until states and other regulatory bodies figure out how to deal with fake news (if that time will ever come), people can catch up to the rapid media changes of our time and adjust their mentality. It’s time to stop the trend of deceit, if not by reporting fake news, then at least by thinking about what you’re reading.

Abigail C. Keane Article Contributing Creators THE BODY AS A PRISON - November 2018

Your Body My Choice

Written by Abigail Ceban Keane with Kimmberly Taylor

The topic of abortion, however worn out it may be, still incites fervent debate – a debate that’s drifted further from the truth. For Americans, the nomination, then confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court relit the long-standing desire of conservatives to overturn Roe v. Wade.

US Abortion debates often rope in the well-known provider of a wide variety of reproductive services. Planned Parenthood. They were targeted in 2015 by an anti-abortion group that secretly filmed executives while posing as a company looking to conduct research with fetal tissue. That footage was then edited to make it appear like Planned Parenthood was profiting from selling aborted fetuses.

“Evidence” that Planned Parenthood should be shut down now, is based purely on the allegation that another company is using aborted fetuses in their creams. The company in question, Neocutis, actually harvested protein cells from a privately donated aborted fetus to create an experimental cream to heal severe dermatological issues. For instance, they researched the healing potential of fetal cells to accelerate “the repair process and reduce scarring in severe burns and wounds.”

To be clear, as described here, the procedure is a gross oversimplification. Where “fetus cells” actually means “proteins derived from cultured skin cells”, and the fetus should be replaced with “a terminated pregnancy that could not survive to term and was deemed medically necessary by the attending physicians.” It’s a bit lengthy, but you get it. What should further be considered is the number of people such research could help in the future.

Now what is demonstrated through these extensive qualifications is that the issue of “donating fetuses” is more complicated than just that, not only is it ethically and morally confusing, but also scientifically.

Yet somehow, the “real” experts don’t know how to back down.

The Morality Angle

Once you get past the initial thread of misinformation, you get to the ideological opinions. First, on abortion: is it murder? And if so, can it be justified? Whether or not abortion is considered murder is more a matter of perspective, and that matter won’t be touched upon in this piece. However, the question of justification is a difficult and pertinent one.

To the claim that women should know better than to have sex without taking birth-control, that with common sense they can foresee the outcome and should be prepared, the sarcastic voice of reason replies, “Force her to have a kid she can’t feed, clothe, educate, house or protect while cutting every program that exists to help her, while absolving men of any responsibility for their role in the situation, including rape…I’d call them pro-birthers, not pro-lifers.”

Note that the argument still speaks of two lives, or at least of a life and the potential for another life. If this potential life is calculated to be extremely unfavourable (presumably with the same common sense that urges one to use contraception), then is it not reasonable for a mother to want to prevent the future misery, deprivation, or possible death that could come after carrying out a pregnancy? To be clear, this is not a suggestion that women should get abortions whenever faced with uncertainty. However, personal health and the future wellbeing of a newborn, or the lack thereof, are considerations some women have to face, especially when it comes to unplanned pregnancy, be it an accident in spite of precautions or the result of rape.

Photo by Mihai Surdu

The Tax Angle

Thus, setting aside a lengthy philosophical debate on the notion of life, it’s preservation, and the prevention of harm (assuming there is no truly correct answer), the question then becomes: who decides on when abortion is justified, or whether it is justified at all? This is where the second contention lies: taxes.

Sure, this isn’t the most intuitive way to think about stakeholders, but just as pacifists condemn the use of taxpayers’ money for supporting military interventions, so are others opposed to inadvertently funding a cause that contradicts their beliefs.

In the context of the US, discussing the issue of taxes funding abortions is mostly irrelevant because abortions are not part of the public health services provided by the state, and out of the only 2 programs that do cover the sexual health of women (Title X and Medicaid), only one provides coverage for abortions. Furthermore, of the 32 states where Medicaid provides coverage for abortions, it is generally restricted to cases of rape, incest, and the endangerment of the woman’s health. Essentially, this entire discussion is just the result of more misinformation and oversimplification.

However, if we were to continue this discussion under the false assumption that Planned Parenthood is funded by taxpayers’ money, the vast majority of the services provided by the organization aren’t abortions. Instead, most of their services cover the testing and treatment of STIs and contraception. So guess what, if Planned Parenthood ceased to exist, not only would millions of people suffer from an undetected STI, but significantly more lower-class women would get pregnant due to an inability to afford contraceptives, or due to a lack of knowledge regarding sexual health and contraception to begin with.

Some may then rise in protest: “Well hang on, that’s still our money being spent on abortions!” The reply to that is 1) that is statistically likely to be factually incorrect, and 2) if it were true, please suggest a better alternative.

Weighing Your Values

Now given that this debate is mainly centered around the United States, the discussion of values will mainly apply to the US situation in particular. Notably, the US is built on principles of liberty, according to which people should be free to choose how to spend their lives and what decisions to make without judgement or legal prohibition as long as it does not harm others – abortion is no exception. Thus, we come to the final point of dispute: liberalism.

Though most interpret liberty in the way described above, a few people feel that the classical interpretation is a bit broad and that freedom can be exercised, as long as it’s not funded by others. Essentially, this comes back to the argument of “why should my taxes go to abortion if I don’t agree with it?”

Setting liberalism aside for a minute, another important factor that enters the discussion is the idea of helping others. Specifically, when it comes to Planned Parenthood, one of the central reasons the organization is often defended is the fact that it helps the less fortunate by providing the sexual health services they need for free or at an affordable price – something the US social security services don’t cover. Interestingly enough, according to a 2018 poll by Reuters, many Americans feel that Medicare should be expanded to operate similarly to the universal healthcare programs found in Europe. This demonstrates that many US citizens value a system that provides for the less fortunate (at least when it comes to medical care).

So, the resulting three key values that at the core of the abortion argument are personal beliefs, helping others, and freedom. Realistically, all three of these can’t be compatible in the case of abortion if one holds on to traditional values. Now the following segment is a thought experiment that will outline the three main options that can result from a weighing of those values.

You can only have two.

What are the options?

There’s an old rule that projects want to be good, fast, and cheap, but can only have two of the three qualities. Let’s assume the same goes for the three key values.

The first option is to forget freedom, but have an effective social security system that complies with your personal beliefs. It isn’t a stretch to say that this system is impossible if it were to be based on everyone’s ideologies.

The second possibility is to screw the less fortunate, but maintain the principles of freedom and personal beliefs. If a majority were to choose an extreme version of this option, just imagine the hell we’d live in: there’d be no taxes, and therefore no public education, no public services, no social security – in sum, no public goods that we take for granted every day.

Finally, there is the case of endorsing freedom and care for others, while putting your personal beliefs aside. This may be the most optimistic option, but it is also the highest chance of coming true since 59% of US Adults believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 70% of Americans support universal health care.

So What?

Given the arguments outlined above, it is easy to understand why the discussion on abortion rights hasn’t been settled. In the end, it is often an issue of conflicting beliefs and general misinformation. What is important for us, as an audience, is to look at information critically, and to form our opinions based on careful considerations of real facts, as well as on our weighing of what beliefs and values we want to hold dearest in our society.