Israel’y bad news: the role of mainstream media in the age of reputation
This is our very own 2001 Space Odyssey. The black monolith of higher knowledge has arrived. In our case, the colourless cuboid is handheld and originally believed to have made phone calls. Yes, mobile devices have delivered the human race a means to access the worlds knowledge instantaneously. And it has become our expectation to find the answers to all life’s questions through the looking glass of the search bar. Welcome to the age of information. Is it already over?
One giant leap for mankind
Gloria Origgi’s latest book ‘Reputation: What It Is and Why It Matters’ sheds light on the advancing eclipse that is the age of reputation. Unable to process the universe of information that exists (thanks internet), we are becoming dependant upon 3rd parties to check and verify sources on our behalf. As Gloria explains, this is not our fault: significant events we could not know about through our own in-person experience must be accepted from another source.
One example would be the 1969 Moon Landing in 1969. Like you, in theory, I also believe that Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. I can not say for certain, because I was not there. Nevertheless, the footage I have seen, and the conspiracy theories I have dismissed have engrained this event as a truth.
Hold onto your tinfoil hats
Now imagine for a moment that the conspiracy theories were correct, and the moon landing was a constructed for the purpose of national propaganda. Less than a decade earlier, the world was on the precipice of nuclear war. The brinkmanship of the Cuban Missile Crisis saw MIM-23 Hawk Surface-To-Air missiles erected on Florida’s beaches. Back in my hometown of Birmingham, UK, schoolchildren rehearsed duck-and-cover drills under classroom tables. It is feasible that the news of America’s achievement was more significant than the act itself. An act of vain-glorious showboating edged America one notch above the Soviet Empire in their international arms race/pissing contest. At the time, the story was worth more than the act itself. In typical child-like taunting, America was king of the castle.
With this over-simplified context, one can begin to understand some of the crackpot theories that have circulated ever since. The issue any of us would have in defending our position is the lack of empirical, objective evidence that we present to back up our case. Hence, a flat-earther will poke and prod their way into an admission, from yourself, that you have never been to space and therefore cannot ‘know’ the earth is round.
Putting these somewhat hysterical examples aside, Gloria Origgi’s ‘Age of Reputation’ poses some interesting dilemmas in the modern day. One of the more contentious issues that had started to bubble over in the UK this year, is the topic of anti-semitism. Tensions along the border between Israel and Palestine have sparked several violent clashes in recent months. The dichotomy between these two sides has appeared to force each side to rally supporters and condemn opposing sympathisers. Politicians in the UK have been drawn into voicing their opinion one way or another. With each comment, media outlets on each side are ready to pounce and use the statement as a means to their own end. As a consequence, what gets broadcast is rarely a balanced appraisal of a very complicated situation.
Now, I am not here to solve the crisis between these two nations. Neither am I here to weigh in an opinion of who is more in the right, or the wrong. I will not, because I cannot. I recognise that my experience of the conflict is so incredibly limited to what I have been told. Equally, I can afford to not make up my mind because the stakes do not directly involve me — a heartless, but pragmatic stance. I am not happy with that revelation, but it is an honest admission. On top of this, I am reluctant to admit a position due to my mistrust of the information I receive.
Can we handle the truth?
As alluded to earlier, any event in the region is seized upon by every side for their own end. This is where the age of reputation becomes so significant. In this new era, where do we go for truth? If we acknowledge that the age of information must give way to the age of reputation, then what we require are sources that we can trust. Whose reputation for unbiased reporting is sacrisanct.
Using a recent example from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I turn to the BBC for it’s (in theory) honest and unbiased reporting. On the 9th August the BBC tweeted the headline:
Israeli air strikes ‘kill pregnant woman and baby’
Just let that headline sink in for a second, and contemplate what your reaction would be. How it makes you feel about each side. Who are you expressing sympathy for? Who is to blame in the story. Being realistic, you, like many others, would perhaps glance at that headline. You would make a judgement based on your previous assumptions and move on.
Minutes after that headline was published, Emmanuel Nahshon posted the following tweet in response, stating “THIS IS A LIE”. It is clear, the context was lost in the headline. Cue BBC panic stations. Go to their website, you will now see this headline instead: “Gaza air strikes ‘kill woman and child’ after rockets hit Israel”. <Link here>
So what is this? Is it a clear act of anti-Israeli propaganda by the BBC, or simply a mistake? Simply a knee-jerk reaction (like sending a helicopter over Cliff Richard’s house — we’ve all done it). Regardless, the impact of this error is significant. In a heartbeat, this tiny stone can create a big splash in an already turbulent sea. Putting yourself in the positions of those who are in the middle of this. As a Palestinian, you will entrench your hatred of an entire nation. You will feel one step closer to justifying any action you take. Similarly, as an Israeli, you may feel unfairly victimised — after all this was actually a response to an earlier attack. Instead of having the context for your actions explained, you appear to be demonised. This engenders fear. Fear can be manipulated.
The liberation of the old
We are way beyond advocating peace in this conflict. The blood that has been spilt obscures our ability to see, and solve, the divides created. I am, however, advocating we do not allow this situation to worsen. This formula for creating division is replicated several times over. We see it on both sides, every day, affecting the big issues. In this particular instance, the reputation of the BBC is recognised by Mr. Nahshon has having a dangerous influence over the situation. The speed at which we can obtain our information has been mirrored in the acceleration of reactions and the tools that allow us to vent instantaneously. If Gloria Origgi’s theories are correct, then our reliance on our sources leaves us open to misunderstanding and prejudice.
Looking ahead for solutions AI’s seemingly limitless potential to process information could hold the key to unbiased reporting of facts. At the very least, it may be able to guide us towards ‘trusted’ and ‘reputable’ media outlets for our information. Then again, technology will only be as ethical as its creator.
Perhaps a more realistic achievement would be more resources being used in education to promote critical thinking over the regurgitation of facts, in the first instance. In addition to this, I would further support a more modern ethical body to oversee mainstream media behaviours. This is not a case of containing the “enemies of the people”, it is an attempt at rebuilding trust in these institutions. See it as a UN for the digital age, where wars are no longer fought on the sea, land or in the sky. Winston Churchill was accused of weaponising the English language. Perhaps nuclear war is not our only means to achieve mutually assured destruction.