Democrcy and media

I still think that democracy is the best way to ensure that a population gets a government that they can trust to do mostly the right thing.

I also think that capitalism needs to be regulated to prevent it from doing serious harm to all kinds of stuff we care about. And that even in the Netherlands there is not enough of that regulation.

I think democracy is being undermined by both new social media and more traditional media simply because of the wrong incentives that determine how these media operate. To some extend this has always been the case, but it seems to have gotten worse. A company that wants to make a profit can never be trusted to act responsibly. I’m not sure how to fix this, because most people ’seem to get exactly the news that they want. The truth (as best a we can make it out) comes with lots of nuance, uncertainty, changes (earlier we thought that but now we think this), lots of contextual information, etc.—most people hate that. Instead they want easy (wrong) answers that make them feel good or excited, and this is what they get. Boring nuance doesn’t sell very well.

It would be great if there existed a big news organization that did not depend on profit or advertising or political funding that could focus on putting out boring but accurate information. In the Netherlands there is a publicly funded news organization, but most of the time it conforms to the policies and ideology of the government, the most powerful political parties, and more generally the cultural elites and ruling elites—perhaps because ultimately this organization still feels uncertain about its funding (successive governments keep cutting its budget). Also this organization is really scared to put out the necessary boring but accurate information. Instead they try to make news and information digestible and entertaining for as many people as possible, which in effect provides comparably bad incentives like those that the commercial media suffer from.

Additionally, journalists are not scientists. Scientists are not without bias, but science has (boring) procedures to eliminate as much bias as possible. Journalists work most of the time within a certain ideology, both personal and institutional (you can’t be a left-wing journalist in a right-wing organization, or a skeptic in an organization that is funded by successive neo-liberal governments, etc.).

o repeat, I’m not sure how to fix this. My growing awareness of surprisingly large numbers of people that believe all kinds of really incredible stuff has made me even more pessimistic.