AMA: On Russian and Western Media bias

Over the weekend, I asked my Facebook friends if they’d like to ask me anything (#AMA). Here’s in reference to one of the first questions asked about media bias. 

The key difference between Russian media and western media is this: one is backed by an official government, and the other is backed by advertisers and corporations. Which one is worse depends on your personal ideology.

I can’t say which one is particularly better, since the end state seems to be the exact same mis-truth that continuously makes people distrust information. This allows the seed of propaganda to germinate and spread its poisonPropaganda might not be the sole cause – it might not be a cause at all, depending on the situation – but it is a catalyst. It is gasoline on the fire.

Some of the issue is social media and how we share information. In the weberverse, there are three things that allow success with likes, views, and shares – all of which help generate revenue.

1) being funny

2) being sensational

3) the information is easy to understand

So there is pressure to create content that is one or all of those things.

It is necessary for what I generalize as the “western media” to capture high viewer numbers in order to justify their ad revenue. So you end up with a lot of fluff that people WANT to watch.

And what people want to watch isn’t always relevant to informing the public.

Here’s a rather blatant example: An MSNBC news anchor interrupted a congresswoman discussing regulation on NSA phone tapping to discuss Justin Bieber’s arrest in Florida.

Hold the Press! Because no one has faith in it anymore.

Welcome to the media. We all know which one would get a bigger audience, even though one is trivial entertainment while the other topic has significant impact on American liberty.

As for content misrepresentation, allow me to give you examples from both sides.

My friend, Maximilian Clark was at a soup kitchen on the rebel side when artillery hit. This was Ukrainian shelling, and it was rebels that eventually got him to safety. Video of the event taken by Patrick Lancaster was picked up by major media and indicated that it was, in fact, the opposite. That it was rebels that were shelling and Ukrainian soldiers reacting.

They eventually argued for an apology and retraction, but the damage was done. No one really reads the retractions anyway.

Russian media does this as well – often without the courtesy of a retraction.

BBC proved that Russian media were complicit in spreading a story about a FICTIONAL 10-year-old girl that was killed by shelling.

No one who has worked in this theater was even surprised.

People in Russia think that the rest of Ukraine is completely filled with goose-stepping Nazis. There are, undoubtedly, nazis on both sides of this war, but not in the numbers people claim. There are people in Ukraine who believe most of the fighters in Donbas are – every single one of them – a Russian spetsnaz. There are, of course, reasonable moderates out there, but by virtue of being the calmer segment of the population, they’re not the ones that howl out on the media, and fanatically push their partisan information down everyone’s throat.

Because the content that gets turned into memes and go viral are about as deep as a shallow pool, you end up with the spreading of ideas that are pathetically two dimensional, and the people depicted in them are merely caricatures for people’s amusement. Most of the time, what gets put out is also deeply polarizing, because anger is a great tool when it comes to encouraging people to share “news”.

Information can be compressed into something easy to swallow, because that’s what the internet wants. Complexity is against Internet culture – and I say that as someone working on the internet.

That’s what advertisers want too. Discomfort and ambivalence aren’t great for selling. People don’t want to buy things when they feel that way. A very thoughtful public is not a particularly shopaholic one.

So, I would say that the images seen by people in either hemisphere is a misrepresentation of what is going on in Donbas. What’s worse is that there is no big-time beacon of truth for either side of this information war, and we have to trust in the moderation and cool heads of individuals to weed through the bull shit.

But it’s difficult to know who or what you can trust. So, I offer this. If someone has a very black and white view of the world, if they continuously use words like “evil”, or refer to people in-subhuman terms (savages, etc), and they refer to things in absolute terms (all Russians, all Ukrainians, etc) then you’re probably getting your information from a propagandist. There’ll be more rhetoric than information.

We don’t live in a James Bond movie. Neither Putin, Poroshenko, or (insert name of head of state here) are “Dr. Evil.”

We must lift our eyes and see people as people. They struggle to find work, they worry about their families, the young people are engrossed in their romantic lives, and every single one of them is afraid of dying. As sentient creatures, I hope we all understand this. But a quick look at Facebook or twitter makes me lose that faith quite quickly.

So there’s the challenge.

4 Comments

  1. Anance says:

    Great stuff – finally, a reasonable voice.

  2. Tabitha says:

    A great piece about all of this.

    One of the hardest things about working in journalism, I find – particularly working for a small paper where discussing what is going on in the world doesn’t happen – is trying to figure out how to help people look for valid sources, and how to point them in the right direction.

    Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, Charlie Hebdo and the Ukrainian War were all situations (and continue to be), where I’ve struggled to point people in the right direction because well ‘CNN/FOX/The Toronto Star/CBC etc reported it so it must be true, and they’re reporters so they know more than you do’.

    I’m not sure whether it’s that people don’t want to do the work to find multiple sources, or whether they actually prefer propaganda-style news because it somehow makes them feel better about things.

  3. A Red Rover says:

    ‘CNN/FOX/The Toronto Star/CBC etc reported it so it must be true, and they’re reporters so they know more than you do’.

    Yeah, pretty much. Except those reporters aren’t on the ground, and often don’t report very well. Not a fan.

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