By Daniel Meyers | November 21, 2022
Against the backdrop of rising attacks on the truth and increased political violence, media experts warned Americans that the clock is ticking to protect the freedom of the press. The fourth annual “Telling The Truth” symposium took place on Oct. 28, in Page Hall of University at Albany’s downtown campus. Media experts sat down for a panel discussion on attacks against truth in the media, the economics behind it, how to fight it, and where to go from here.
Poster for the fourth edition of Telling The Truth. Quoted from U.S. Representative Liz Cheney, emphasizing the role that disinformation played in the capital insurrection.
Photo Credit: New York State Writers Institute
“Today we confront a large and entrenched group of election deniers, as well as ongoing threats to free speech, and attacks on truth itself,” Paul Grondahl said, director of the New York State Writers Institute, opening the fourth “Telling The Truth,” symposium.
With the insurrection hearings still taking place, the midterm elections taking place, Paul Pelosi being attacked, and Elon Musk acquiring ownership of Twitter the day before the symposium, media experts argue it’s more important than ever for readers to know the information they’re getting is truthful.
“I think that most people just want to know what’s true in the world,” Brian Stelter said, author of New York Times bestseller “Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth (2020).” “It’s clear that Americans don’t want to be misled into believing false information; many have simply fallen victim to it.”
“Even a lot of folks that publicly claim they believe the big lie if you get them drunk enough, they tell you they don’t actually believe it,” Stelter said.
Nandini Jammi, an activist for Truth in Broadcasting, explained how this system of disinformation, which she refers to as the “disinformation tax” is upheld, and how it can be defeated by attacking the economics of disinformation.
Jammi describes the disinformation tax as a percentage of ad revenue that goes toward “content which advertisers wouldn’t otherwise support,” because advertisers don’t always know where their revenue is going.
Jammi argued the severity of this disinformation problem is due to how big Google is around the world, as well as the system of internet anonymity.
“All these [disinformation] pipelines in India, Brazil, everywhere in the world come back to Google ads,” Jammi said. “Anonymity is another system that allows advertisers to promote disinformation without consequences. Nine out of ten sellers in Google’s publisher inventory are hidden from the public.”
Jammi argued that disinformation, in part, is spread because advertisers either allow it to happen or can’t stop it.
“The majority of Google’s ad revenue business comes from small businesses who don’t know what they’re doing, and they rely on Google’s default settings,” Jammi said. “So you have this 20% or so of really big companies that do try and do have the resources, and even they fail, so what chance does a small business have against this?”
A complete video recording of the “Telling the Truth” Symposium is available on the New York State Writers Institute website.