Readers, Writers, Texts

Fake News! The Future of Truth

“Politics will eventually be replaced by imagery. The politician will be only too happy to abdicate in favor of his image, because the image will be much more powerful than he could ever be.”

Marshall Mcluhan
What if all the information in the world was categorized and easily searchable? What if all the news from around the world, all books, written texts, photos and videos that exist on a place in the world would be collected, and would be available everywhere? That is precisely the goal of Google. In this famous 2006 behind-the-scenes documentary, Dutch film maker Ijsbrand van Veelen visits Google company headquarters and finds out that, while they have laudable intentions, some people are worried about Google’s ‘Big Brother’ style direction, which not only determines what information is available, but also who, what, and when the information has been searched.

What changes will the internet bring to the types of news we encounter? As you read this, several large newspapers are under threat. Over the past decades news organizations have been bought by multinational corporations. What are the positive and negative effects of centralizing the news? For one thing, this could be harmful to the variety and amount of bias in coverage. On the other hand, financial resources might be more stable in an age of declining advertising revenue. Begin with ‘The Internet’ then read some of the following articles and formulate your own ideas about the future of the news in the digital age: 

Class Activity: facebook and truth

To some it’s scary, to others, just inevitable: Facebook is now our most popular source for news stories. Except, as this article points out, the way it’s being reported often means it isn’t the news, it is little more than embellished rumour. This prompts many questions, such as whether Facebook itself should take responsibility for the knowledge conveyed by its users – or would this be censorship…? Read the embedded article and discuss the questions below:

  1. How is the news reported?
  2. How should the news be reported to ensure accuracy?
  3. Does social media help or hinder our acquisition of knowledge about the world?
  4. Who should judge whether the news is being reported responsibly?

Learner Portfolio

This advert for the Guardian’s open journalism, screened for the first time on 29 February 2012, imagines how the story of the three little pigs might be covered in the online age.

How does this advert for the Guardian newspaper demonstrate some of the principles you have learned about in this section? Write a page or so about the impact of technology on the way the news is reported, making reference to this advert. Include concepts such as: fragmentation, amplification. information cascade, information flow, gatekeeping, and any other terms you can identify.

Paper 1 Text Type Focus: infotainment texts

Tabloid Journalism is a type of journalism which is often discounted by those who prefer “true journalism.” Tabloid journalism tend to focus on more sensational or extreme topics such as celebrity gossip, outrageous crime, seemingly impossible events (such as the possibility of extra-terrestrials) or other sensational stories. Tabloid papers take the mantra of ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ extremely seriously. Today, tabloid journalism is particularly strong in anglophone cultures such as the UK and the US. These papers are easily recognizable by the vivid red mastheads – in fact, in the UK tabloid papers such as the Sun, the Mirror and the (now discontinued) News of the World are also known as red-tops. Usually placed at shop checkout counters, many give these papers very little credibility. However, there is a huge market for ‘infotainment’ and advertisers have taken advantage of the circulation, making this business highly lucrative – and making the tabloid press more influential than you might like to believe.

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyze unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). Below are some articles which straddle the boundary between news and entertainment. Use these practice texts to familiarise yourself with the features of Infotainment and add them to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam. You can find more information – including text type features and sample Paper 1 analysis – by visiting 20/20. Read through one or two of the exemplars, then choose a new paper and have a go at writing your own Paper 1 analysis response:

key features of infotainment texts
  • Purpose: while they may superficially inform the reader about events, the main purpose of infotainment is to entertain.
  • Sensationalism: exaggeration and drama is the backbone of this writing style.
  • Headline: may be shocking or create anticipation. Puns, strong verbs and alliteration are features commonly seen in tabloid headlines.
  • Image: photographs are used to support the article, and may be lewd or sensational. Journalists who follow celebrities with the intention of taking revealing photos are called paparazzi.
  • Structure: infotainment texts may be written in shorter paragraphs than other kinds of newspaper text.
  • Interviews: embedding interview statements is common practice – of course, the more controversial the better.
  • Claims: look out for opinions stated as facts, with no supporting evidence, using language like ‘alleged’, ‘claim’ and ‘accused’.
  • Figurative Language: infotainment texts are a rich source of metaphor, simile, and hyperbole.

Body of Work: Black Mirror – The Waldo Moment

Black Mirror: The Waldo Moment tells the story of a failed comedian who voices a popular cartoon bear named Waldo – who finds himself mixing in politics when TV executives want Waldo to run for office.

Black Mirror is a dark satirical anthology series that examines disturbing aspects of modern society, particularly as it relates to technology. Each standalone episode presents a picture of a near-future world that’s believable, yet twisted in some way. In The Waldo Moment, Jamie is a comedian initially struggling to make it as the creator and voice of Waldo, his animated creation. However, bit by bit, Waldo becomes more and more popular until, despite Jamie’s scepticism about his own creation, Waldo is a hit! Unfortunately, Waldo’s success gives Jamie no joy because, while Waldo is superficially entertaining, Jamie does not believe in the things Waldo says and stands for.

This kind of self-conflict is completely relatable in our modern age. Think about when you see the reaction to your social media posts: you make a genuine comment or post a picture in the hopes of garnering ‘likes’, but nobody seems to respond. However, when you post a remark you don’t truly believe in – friends and strangers seem to love it. So you’re caught in a sudden existential dilemma: should you stick to your ‘real’ self or give in to the ‘fake’ you that other people seem to like?

Black Mirror takes this concept and, with the addition of VR technology that enables Jamie to pretty much constantly inhabit his alter-ego, runs with it to a terrible conclusion. The Waldo Moment depicts a populist outrage figure defying the polls and clinching a swathe of votes. Its final scenes of Waldo as a form of passive mind control may have seemed far-fetched back in 2013 – but seem all too familiar after the events of 2016.

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

“Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

IB Language and Literature Guide

Please find suggestions here; but always be mindful of your own ideas and class discussions and follow the direction of your own programme of study when devising your assessment tasks.

A scene from The Waldo Moment (or another relevant episode of Black Mirror) would make a good text to discuss in this assessed activity. The named author would be ‘Charlie Brooker’, the show’s writer. Your Field of Inquiry might be Science, Technology and the Environment, with a focus on the Global Issue of ‘The ways technology can transform our behaviour’. If any of your literary works involve the effects of technology on individuals or societies (or are from the genre of science fiction) you can make a valid pairing. Speak to your teacher about your ideas, or consider one of the following starting points:

  • Shaw’s Pygmalion – it may be a slight stretch, but this play is set at the end of the industrial revolution in Europe. As such, increased manufacturing capability has enabled unprecedented social mobility and people are speaking and acting in ways unthinkable just a few short years before.
  • J.G. Ballard’s Empire of the Sun – Jim’s fascination with aeroplanes could form the centrepiece of a talk involving this text, particularly in regards to his rather childish and naive behaviour at Dr Lockwood’s party.
  • Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – read Act 1 Scene 1 closely to see how ships and shipping influence the thoughts and actions of the characters at the start of the play.

Towards Assessment: HL Essay

Black Mirror has always been particularly interested in the concept of our ‘digital self’ and, if you’re interested in this concept too, you could investigate how the Black Mirror series presents the relationship between our ‘selves’ and our ‘digital selves.’ If you want to venture beyond the scope of The Waldo Moment alone, you should keep focus on episodes relevant to this idea. Fortunately, the show has given us: animated avatars in Fifteen Million Merits; the posthumous re-creation of people in Be Right Back; the possibility of being digitised for eternity in San Junipero; digital clones in USS Callister… to name but a few.

In truth, the show provokes so many questions and explores so many themes that, if you’re not interested in the theme of ‘self vs digital self’, you should be able to investigate something more to your liking. The topics covered include: the obsession with celebrities, reality TV, social networks, video games and smartphones; the end of private life; robots and androids; social and commercial profiling; fake news and opinion manipulation; dating sites and matching systems; immersive augmented reality; cybersecurity and cyberbullying; the transfer of memory or consciousness into a machine; and trans-humanism. What’s important to remember is that your essay must involve analysis of ‘how’ the show provokes questions and explores these issues. Consider the conventions of science fiction writing as well as conventions associated with television shows, such as mise-en-scene, use of camera, editing techniques and sound.

Wider Reading and Research

If you are interested in the topics and articles on this page, you might like to conduct some wider reading and research. Here are some recommendations to get you started:

  • How Technology Disrupted the Truth – this Guardian Long Read article will help you understand concepts such as the echo chamber, filter bubble, amplification effect and more.
  • Google: Behind the Screen – In this famous 2006 behind-the-scenes documentary, Dutch film maker Ijsbrand van Veelen visits Google company headquarters and finds out that, while they have laudable intentions, some people are worried about Google’s ‘Big Brother’ style direction, which not only determines what information is available, but also who, what, and when the information has been searched.
  • Think Like a Journalist – in this amusing-but-serious Tedtalk, reporter Kelsey Samuels discusses how journalists tell what news is real and what is fake – and the importance of getting her reporting right.
  • Across Platforms and Places: The Future of Journalism – in this talk, Professor Palilonis argues that journalism must connect audiences to stories so they feel personally immersed in a technologically disrupted world.
  • The Future of Journalism – When Tom Rosenstiel is asked, “Has digital technology made journalism worse or better?” he has a quick answer: “Yes.” In this talk, he asks: in a world where the audience dictates what “news” is, what new roles must responsible journalists learn to play?

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