Let’s make democracy great again

The English novelist George Orwell once observed that in a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act. If this is accurate, then the Internet and the tsunami of so-called ‘fake news stories’ now jamming our online news feeds and flooding the collective social media landscape, makes all of us potential revolutionaries.

The recent world-wide condemnation and outcry over president Donald Trump’s immigration, health care and environmental policies, indicates that many people are finally waking up and fighting back with their own forms of ‘culture jamming’.

Massive astonishing and spontaneous public rallies in cities across the globe, not seen since the anti-nuclear movement of the early 1980’s, are signs that those citizens who sat on the sidelines during past and recent political elections, are not willing to accept alternative facts.

statue_liberty

Other forms of dissent involve the propaganda war, where the cyber-weapons of choice are stinging satirical memes and endless streams of phony and real news stories, all intended to persuade and convince by flooding an opponent’s news feeds.

Creators of ‘fake news’ stories have been implicated in manufacturing everything from Obama citizenship conspiracies theories, to linking Republican senator Ted Cruz’s father to the JFK assassination and tilting the result of the recent American election in Trump’s favor. In today’s ‘give me entertainment or give me death culture’, where puny attention spans and instant gratification are king – it’s not necessarily the detection of fake or fabricated news that is the issue.

In today’s ‘give me entertainment or give me death culture’, where puny attention spans and instant gratification are king – it’s not necessarily the detection of fake or fabricated news that is the issue.

With so many compelling and alluring forces vying for their daily attention: work, family, the Internet, binge-watching and dizzying array of the latest smart phones and associated apps – most people do not have the time or the inclination to fact check every pseudo-story that litters their social media news feeds or jams their inbox. Enter the newest technical audio-video manipulation advancements that will soon obliterate any existing line between what is considered fake and real.

In a paper published last year by professors at Stanford University and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg – researchers discovered that technologists could record video of someone talking and then change their facial expressions in real time. The technology demonstrated how the facial expressions from a news clip of Russian president Vladimir Putin could be altered in real time in difficult-to-detect ways.

Other initiatives like the ‘Digital Emily Project’, a study where researchers used digital characters in place of real people, further blurs the line between fantasy and reality, making truth detection that much more elusive. Seamless digital technologies now employed by Hollywood and video-gaming industry artists, make the detection of real actors from digital avatars virtually impossible.

Advancements in audio technology have also made truth detection an increasingly daunting task. At a developer conference this past November, Adobe touted its new product nicknamed ‘Photoshop for audio’. The product allows a user to transfer around 10 to 20 minutes of their voice into the application, then allows them to type words expressed in that exact voice. The result does not sound computer-generated in the least, but uncannily real.

Imagine how real video and audio interviews of political leaders could be seamlessly twisted to further nefarious ends. For instance, audio of a comment could be generated and inserted before or following an interview (heard over a hot microphone) of a world leader making threatening comments toward another country.

Of course, all this assumes that some people still actually care whether the stories in their newsfeeds are real or fake. Increasingly, consumers of social media seem more concerned that the rivers of content cascading through their media streams support their worldview, as opposed whether any of it is true.

Historically, autocrats rely on the indifference of the masses to maintain their grip on power. Give the masses ‘bread and circuses’ and they will be happy. Given the choice between the awesome power and responsibility of the freedom to choose what’s in the interest of the common good versus ‘bread and circuses’ – I would suspect those in power hope the people continue to choose the latter.

Ironically, it may just be the Orwellian policies of the Trump administration that stir the consciences and souls of the multitudes that tip the balance in making democracy in America great again. The alternative is a darker world, where, theoretically, two plus two could equal five.

Sources:
Vanityfair.com – http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/01/fake-news-technology
1984. George Orwell.

Photo Credit: Michael Redfearn

Advertisements

Note to Media Orgs: Make My ‘Blanking’ Day

BREAKING NEWS . . .

Canada_Day_Tomb_of_the_Unknown_Soldier

Life took a huge chunk of my childhood innocence when (__________) shot president John F. Kennedy and time and the world seemed to stop on November 22, 1963. And blank’s face, name and history were instantly plastered on countless newspapers, glossy magazine covers and featured in television programs around the world.

As a young man driving home from a pick-up hockey game, just after midnight on December 8, 1980 – the radio blared the unbelievable news (__________) killed John Lennon and, for a time, the music and a little piece of my soul died. And blank’s face, name and history were instantly plastered on countless newspapers, glossy magazine covers and featured in television programs around the world.

And on December 6, 1989 I was horrified when terror hit home when (__________) murdered 14 women in cold blood at École Polytechnique at the University of Montreal. And blank’s face, name and history were instantly plastered on countless newspapers, glossy magazine covers and featured in television programs around the world.

Just when I thought my soul and pysche could not bear the shock and horror of another bloody, tragic tale, in the span of a few days, in another flash of insanity (__________) and (__________) brutally killed Canadian soldiers Patrice Vincent and Nathan Cirillo.

And blanks’ faces, names and histories were INSTANTLY and FOREVER posted on social media websites, plastered on newspapers, glossy magazine covers and featured in television programs around the world.

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org


November 22, 1963: The Day Innocence Died

jfkcaasket

Jackie and daughter Caroline say their final goodbyes.

Half a century later, the memories of that tragic event and the dreary days that followed, still cast a long dark shadow across the soul of America and our global village.

It was the age of McLuhan and the dawn of television. Where bold and lofty dreams of moonshots, civil rights for all and global peace dominated the zeitgeist.

The principal at St. Joseph elementary school in Kitchener broke through the routine on that fateful November day. The PA announcement breeched the blissful shelter of Sister Ignatius’ classroom. “President Kennedy has been shot and we need to say a prayer for him.” Within the hour the principal reluctantly announced that the president had died.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”  ~ JFK

During the next four days all the channels on our black and white TV screen were filled with strange sights and sounds foreign to the eyes of a seven year-old boy who preferred the security and comforting diversion of cartoons to calamity.

John F. Kennedy Jr. Funeral. Single.

John Jr. salutes his father’s casket.

Decades before the ubiquity of the Internet and social media – whenever news of disaster struck  – families huddled around TV screens or clutched and gaped in disbelief at stunning newspaper headlines and photos.

Immediately following news of the Kennedy assassination, the collective grief and tears of a nation mired deeply in shock and confusion exploded in a relentless torrent of media images: tearful and traumatized bystanders of the shooting, the arrest and stunning murder of the president’s suspected assassin, a grieving, stoic widow, her two innocent children, a riderless horse and the world bidding a long final farewell to a fallen hero.

Too young to fully understand but old enough to know that the day Kennedy died was the first time I saw my father cry; that in an instant the world could be a dark and dangerous place.

And that even King Arthur and all his brave knights, no matter how hard they tried, could ever put the president, America or the carefree, fragile world of a seven-year old back together again.


Frankenford Meets Duffy the PMO Vampire Slayer

Just when you think that interest in anything political was all but deep-sixed in this country, two juicy scandals have single-handedly revived the public’s interest in politics.

It’s true. Canadians were actually queuing up on Parliament Hill this past week to catch a glimpse of senior citizens debating in the Senate. But this was not just any boring, civil debate. It involved three senators (who just happened to have been caught) demonized for allegedly claiming inelligible expenses on the public’s dime.

Frankenstein & Dracula

Senator Mike Duffy stole the spotlight when his testimony linked PM Harper closer to former chief of staff Nigel Wright’s decision to write a $90,000.00 to Duffy.

Now Mr. Harper is probably writing a thank you note to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford for, once again, graciously deflecting the Canadian public’s attention away from the latest beating the PM’s reputation has been taking, thanks largely to Mr. Duffy. Note to the PMO – do not cross former journalists.

Mr. Ford is also making international news again – for a video purportedly showing him smoking crack cocaine and uttering racist and homophobic slurs. But you already know this, don’t you? Because we all love to see someone else fall and implode from time to time. Especially when the person free-falling or imploding is the leader of a peace-loving, polite country like Canada or world class city like Toronto. Oh ya, happy Halloween. Trick or treat?