Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

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A discussion of some recent news

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Recently, there has been a lot of interesting news, especially with an eye on topics in the PC-area, including restrictions on “allowed” opinions. Below, I will look into some of it in an eclectic manner:

  1. German* news-sources (e.g. Tagesschau) state that Brazil has declared homophobia (“homophobie”) illegal.

    *I have not investigated whether the same partial misreporting (cf. below) has taken place in other countries.

    Looking at the details of the texts, a confusing image appears. Apparently, the illegality is two-pronged: Discrimination based on homosexuality is now illegal and violence against homosexuals has the status of a hate-crime (whereas it was “just” a crime in the past).

    As is clear, either “homophobia” or “discrimination” is abused in a sense that is not compatible with correct use and which causes considerable confusion: Homophobia is a matter of opinion or feeling, and is not action. A ban on homophobia implies a ban on opinion (something utterly, utterly evil; something much, much worse than homophobia), implying that the use can only be correct if discrimination is abused in an absurd sense, e.g. to include attitudes rather than e.g. decision making.

    Barring further research*, I would put my money on abuse of “homophobia”**. This still, however, shows a lack of awareness of the difference between thought and action, and continues the Orwellian tendency of condemning things as evil based on thought/opinion/feeling/character and to see action as an inevitable result. (Something that might say more about the proponents’ self-control and morals than about their opponents’…) To re-iterate for the umpteenth time: When judging evil, actions count—opinions do not.

    *Note that this discussion is not about Brazilian law, it is merely triggered by it. The exact details of the Brazilian situation have no major impact on the big-picture discussion.

    **Or possibly a combination that limits the expression of opinion—something at least potentially very evil. (This would ultimately depend on the details of the law. I note that e.g. my native Sweden and adopted Germany have “hate-speech” laws that risk a too large infringement on freedom of speech. Also see the election-poster discussion below)

    To this might be added that the use of “-phobia” to imply e.g. hatred, rather than fear, is highly unfortunate. While I strongly discourage use of e.g. “homophobia”, “Islamophobia”, …, in a non-fear sense, that train is probably long gone.

    Looking at the hate-crime side, it might be partially welcomed that the treatment is now consistent with (as claimed in reporting) that of racism. However, this also demonstrates a flawed legislation in principle: legislation should be sufficiently generic that such aspects should only rarely need to be regulated on a case-by-case basis.* A quality law concerning hate-crimes would then speak not of crimes directed at an individual due to e.g. “race, color, and creed” but of e.g. “group membership”—where group also could include e.g. being a fan of the wrong soccer-team. (I have not investigated the details of the Brazilian law and law interpretation, but it is clear that one or both was not been generic enough in the past.)

    *A horrifying example of such lack of generic thinking is Swedish laws relating to group protection that explicitly include women but fail to include men. Even if we assume that women were in need of more protection (highly disputable in Sweden, but a staple of Feminist propaganda), there is no legitimate reason to exclude men or to be non-generic: If a man is never victim of a relevant crime, there is no negative effect of a more generic law—but if he is, the more generic law guarantees him equal protection. This especially because the situation can change: if men (or members of another group) were not in need of protection at the time the law was made, they might be a few decades later. The omission simply does not make sense (but it does follow a consistent pattern of one-sided pro-women regulation in Sweden, matched e.g. by demands for quotas to ensure a minimum percentage of women rather than of each sex).

    Of course, even “hate-crime” is an unfortunate term (arguably, one of the first abuses of “hate” by the PC movement), as it takes a term that should include any crime committed out of hate (e.g. the murder of a personal enemy) and reduces it to hate against groups and includes crimes committed against these groups for reasons short of actual hate. I suggest avoiding “hate-crime” in favour of e.g. “crimes based on group”. (I continue to use “hate-crime” in this text for consistency with reporting and because I only reflected on the inappropriateness of the term during writing. I am likely to proceed differently in later texts.)

    From another perspective, I have never been convinced that hate-crimes deserve special treatment in terms of punishment. Actions, not opinion, should count and there is no obvious reason why it should matter whether e.g. a gang beats up a passer-by because of skin color or because they want “a bit of fun”. If anything, I would see the latter as the marginally greater evil… Notably, any reasoning around the potential scope of the problem is flawed, because a greater scope would automatically* (assuming reasonable law) imply more punishable events and/or greater punishment per event—-even without a hate-crime modification. For instance, if the same group of people vandalize a small business (with or without a particular group belonging) repeatedly, the members stand to face worse punishment than if they do so once (and a greater risk that the police will bother to involve it self, and a greater risk of being caught, and a greater risk of sufficient proof being available).

    *If the criminals are caught and enough evidence is present, which will often be a problem for any crime. Here there is room for special treatment, however: it could be legitimate to give suspected hate-crimes preferential treatment in terms of e.g. investigative resources.

    Moreover, the presence of hate-crime laws and a focus on hate-crimes can easily lead to preconceived opinions about motivations—and I note that I have often seen claims like “the police assumes a hate-crime” attached to crimes against minority groups in a blanket manner. The simple truth is that immigrants (homosexuals, whatnot) are not magically exempt from regular crimes. Assuming “hate-crime” in a blanket manner does no-one a favour.

  2. As has been hinted for some time, the Tubman twenty-dollar bill will be delayed, or even eventually be lost in time. Good: As I wrote more than two years ago, the Tubman decision was fundamentally flawed—not because Tubman, herself, would be unworthy, but because the process was rigged to find as politically correct a candidate as possible and demonstrated several problems with distortions of democracy.

    Further, in light of newer realizations about U.S. trends, I strongly suspect that there is an element of Orwellian* revisionism involved, e.g. that the character of Andrew Jackson, based on flawed reasoning, has been cast as “evil” in the PC narrative and most now see all honors rescinded.

    *The term applies disturbingly often when it comes to certain areas of discourse, but I will try to avoid a third mention in this text.

  3. Lars Aduktusson, a Swedish politician and member of the EU Parliament for the Christian-values KDU party, has been attacked from more or less every direction, including press, political opponents, and even his own party members for … voting against abortion. (Cf. e.g. a Swedish source.)

    In effect, in his role as someone elected by the people, he is not allowed to vote by his conscience and convictions. I note in particular that the criticism does not appear to have been directed against a violation of the party line.* Instead, there seems to be a general opinion that anything but a pro-abortion stance is morally deficient. For instance, the given source quotes one complainant speaking of “okänslighet” (“lack of sensitivity”) regarding the voting and another who speaks of abortion in terms of “grundläggande rättigheter för kvinnor” (“basic rights for women”). Moreover, the reasoning used to support an abortion stance (at least, in the sources that I saw) followed the naive and simplistic “it’s my body” line… To re-iterate my take on the abortion issue: “The main issue is the body of the fetus, and involves sub-issues like when this body should be considered a human and when a disposable something else—which in turn involves medical, philosophical, and (for non-atheists) religious considerations.” While I have nothing against the pro-abortion stance, per se, and do not have a strong own opinion, I have nothing but contempt for those who reduce it to such a mindless and flawed slogan as “it’s my body”—or reduce it to a women’s right issue, or mindlessly condemn a “pro-life” stance.

    *Which might be bad enough as is: I disapprove of the whip and party-line mentality in favour of the own judgment of the individual.

    Worse: It appears that Aduktusson, himself, was not necessarily opposed to abortion, being more motivated by the question of what issues should be decided on what level within the EU. However, not even this is enough of a justification for his “immoral” voting—on the outside, he is admitted the right to abstain from voting… This even though an abstained vote is unlikely to be recognized as a rejection, and is more likely to imply e.g. the lack of a strong opinion or a negotiated* non-vote to compensate for someone else being absent.

    *Such trickery appears to be fairly common, e.g. in that a member of party A is taken ill and the need to bring the him in to vote is avoided by a member of party B voluntarily abstaining.

    This type of intolerance of opinion is extremely dangerous, especially because there appear to be many areas where an opinion becomes universally programmatic once sufficiently many voters believe it or a sufficiently large group is likely to protest against non-adherence. For instance, I recently had a look at the 2018 party program of Moderaterna, who were the most reasoned, reasonable, and informed Swedish party during my youth, only to find various nonsense about women still being unequal, a weak version of the 77-cents-on-the-dollar fraud, claims of violence against women, … This nonsense is, at best, heavily outdated in Sweden, but we have reached an unfortunate point where those who object to it are run over with accusations of sexism and whatnot, and where far too few politicians have the courage to take a stand for the truth. (To which can be added that the lesser some problems are, the more complaints they appear to attract. For instance, as women’s disadvantages of old have disappeared, the complaints about disadvantages have grown louder and the conviction that they are present has grown stronger—never mind the facts at hand. Also consider e.g. U.S. phenomena like the micro-aggression issue, which are used to “prove” that the fight against this-or-that is as urgent and important as ever.)

  4. In Germany, election posters have been removed by the authorities for allegedly being Volksverhetzung—actions at least temporarily seen as legal by a court*. In the source, two examples are given: “Stoppt die Invasion: Migration tötet!” (“Stop the invasion: Migration kills!”) and “Widerstand – jetzt” (“Resistance – now”).

    *A preliminary court proceeding, possibly comparable to a motion for a temporary restraining order, has declined to put a stop to the removals.

    The latter appears beyond reproach by any reasonable* standard of free speech, and must be seen in the light of more extreme claims by Leftist extremists—including the Marxist-Leninist MLPD calling for revolution… Indeed, it is border-line obvious that the problem here is not the message, because a similar reaction to the exact same message by MLPD would not take place. The problem is the “who”—NPD, a strongly nationalist party with (at least historically) some Neo-Nazi contacts.

    *Note that it is not a given that local legislation has a reasonable standard. Germany definitely goes too far in its restrictions—however, even here I have great problems with seeing how the poster could be illegal (in general) or Volksverhetzung (in particular).

    The second, I could conceivably see as violation of the Volksverhetzung law, but it is truly a stretch. Moreover, even if it is technically illegal, it is hard to condemn it from an ethical point of view. The main point of criticism would be its factual correctness, with the “Migration kills!” part seeming far-fetched to me (I have not seen their reasoning)—but factual correctness has not been the deciding issue! To boot, other parties definitely make incorrect statements. For instance, the major parties SPD (Social-Democrat) and Die Grüne (“green” party) both repeated variations of the 77-cents-on-the-dollar fraud during the last parliamentary election—the SPD even admitted to knowing that it was a fraud upon my contact (Die Grüne never answered). Now, if there was a crack-down against incorrect claims, extending to all parties, I might* not object at all; however, again, this is not part of such a crack-down and it is clear that different parties are given different treatments based who they are—not on what they do.

    *In principle, I would not object at all; in a practical situation, great care must be taken to avoid undue censorship due to e.g. poorly informed or too partial checkers. In countries like Sweden, it is so bad that the truth might regularly be condemned as lie, while the lie be tolerated as truth.

    Looking at the actual law, it seems to be restricted to “national, racial, religious group or a group defined by their ethnic origins” (using the translation present in the linked-to Wikipedia article).* Firstly, the topic is immigration**, not immigrants, and it is conceivable that no ill-will is intended towards the actual immigrants—at blame might be e.g. a too lax German immigration policy, too generous social systems, unconscionable situations in the countries of origin, whatnot. Secondly, even if we do assume that immigrants are targeted, these categories do not apply here, in my eyes, because including immigrants in general as a group would be contrary to a reasonable interpretation. Note that immigrants include Swedes, e.g. yours truly, U.S. citizens, and Dutch people, as well as Somalis, Japanese, and Indians—even Hitler, himself, was an immigrant! The group would simply be too heterogeneous to be defined by more specific criteria than e.g. immigrant or not-German. In contrast, “Swedes out!” would have been directed at sufficiently specific group.

    *Here we have a good example of the poor laws discussed above: Men/women, homo-/heterosexuals, members of particular parties, adherents to particular ideologies, members of specific professions, …, are all implicitly excluded from protection. For instance, if someone were to apply a caste-mentality and declare garbage men to be “impure” or “untouchable”, the law would not be helpful.

    **Proof-reading, I see that the quotes do not even speak of “immigration”—they speak of “migration”. While it seems quite reasonable to assume that immigration is intended, a court proceeding would need to be very careful with interpretation, and only judge the statements in a bigger context of statements, e.g. a party program. At an extreme, an interpretation like “emigration kills Germany, because the brain-drain is so severe” would still be within the realms of possibility (but not likelihood) for a nationalist party.

    Moreover, the law gives several types of specific violations, none of which is strongly convincing and some of which are obviously not applicable:*

    *The Wikipedia translation strikes me as poor, and I partially give my own translation here. Beware that I might get the “legalese” wrong.

    zum Hass aufstachelt (incites hatred): Would require a generous interpretation of intent behind and/or effect of the statements, at least when applying reasonable doubt. By comparison, “smoking kills” does not imply that the speaker hates smoking, smokers, or the tabacco industry. The claim could be a perfectly unemotional warning by a public agency. (Indeed, as occurs to me right now, it is conceivable that the posters were written as a deliberate parallel. In that case, the “kills” part might even be seen as a metaphor or something “snow-cloney”.)

    zu Gewalt- oder Willkürmaßnahmen auffordert (demands/requests violent or arbitrary measures): No demand is made, or necessarily implied. In as far as a demand is implied, there is no sign of violence, and no arbitrariness that goes beyond what other parties get away with.

    die Menschenwürde anderer dadurch angreift, dass er […] beschimpft, böswillig verächtlich macht oder verleumdet (attacks the human dignity of others, through insults, malicious malignment,* or defamation): The first two do not apply, the third is a stretch (and tricky with regard to reasonable doubt), and only the fourth gives a non-trivial opening—if the claim can be proved to be sufficiently inappropriate** in context.

    *I am at loss for a good idiomatic translation, “verächtlich mach[t/en]” being an extremely rare expression, and draw on the Wikipedia translation, but have some doubts there too. A more literal translation would be “make despised” or, possibly, “[…] despicable”, which does not work at all in English.

    **Going by memory, German defamation laws sometimes apply even when a claim is factually correct. Depending on the details, it might not be strictly necessary to prove the claim wrong (and the burden of proof of correctness might lie on the alleged perpetrator to begin with). Then again, such crimes are normally directed at the individual, which might make the angle irrelevant. (I would need too much research to clarify this.)

    (The last part does contain a “Teile der Bevölkerung” (“parts of the population”), which might be seen as going beyond the listed groups.)

    In addition, the law specifically gives a prerequisite of a risk “den öffentlichen Frieden zu stören” (“to disturb the public peace”), which does not obviously apply either. Does it risk the peace? Is a specific enough group targeted? Is a sufficiently specific violation applicable? Is there sufficient proof? Whatnot. With the usual “not a lawyer” reservations, I find it hard to believe that an impartial and competent judge would actually deem this Volksverhetzung in a full trial.

Excursion on other parts of the Volksverhetzung law:
The part quoted by Wikipedia does not cover the entire law. (Cf. e.g. gesetze-im-internet.) Skimming the rest, I see nothing that influences the above analyses; however, I do see further concern in other regards. For instance, in my reading, giving a text deemed as Volksverhetzung to a minor would it self constitute Volksverhetzung and be punishable by up to three years in prison. There does not appear to be any restriction on the reason, e.g. due to a historical importance, as part of a comparison, as discouragement, … For instance, handing a minor a copy of “Mein Kampf” for a common critical analysis, e.g. with an eye on determining what information was available to the German people prior to 1932, would be illegal in my reading…

Extrapolating current (and absurd) trends and attitudes towards children’s literature, such laws might one day make it illegal to hand out the original text of e.g. “Tom Sawyer” to a minor, because it uses the word “nigger”, stereotypes black people, glorifies* slavery, or similar. I do not consider this scenario overly likely, but the risk is sufficiently large to prove such laws problematic—and there are people who would welcome such a ban.

*I have not read it in decades and cannot guarantee that this word would hold. If it does not, something like “does not sufficiently reject” might apply.

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Written by michaeleriksson

May 26, 2019 at 8:37 pm

Unethical news sites endangering their readers

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Trying to research the previous post a little, I had major problems: Almost every German news site I visited displayed nothing but the claim that the site was unusable without JavaScript.

This is extremely problematic, because they have no legitimate* reason that could possibly require** JavaScript—and a news site is the last place, short of a porn site, where a user should allow JavaScript to be activated! News sites usually contain considerable external contents, e.g. in the form of advertising or comments left by other readers. This implies that the visitor is exposed to a very considerable and entirely unnecessary security risk— even when he trusts the news site it self to be non-hostile (potentially naive) and even if he can live with the entirely unnecessary animations and other idiocies that almost invariably worsen the user experience when JavaScript is on. This is the computer equivalent to having sex with a nymphomaniac without a condom…

*As opposed to illegitimate, like profile building or implementing unethically intrusive adverts.

**As opposed to providing a smaller benefit somewhere..

For a news site* to require JavaScript is grossly unethical and reckless, and I strongly encourage you to without exceptions avoid such sites.

*Much of the same argumentation applies to many other sites too. However, some other sites do have legitimate reasons and/or provide a considerable benefit; while the danger is usually smaller, since there tends to be less external content of various types. Still, most uses of JavaScript are entirely unnecessary and only bring an unnecessary risk to the visitors.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 11, 2017 at 11:20 pm

Follow-up: Swedish teletext and PC obsession

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And I visit the teletext again, only to find:

Page 304 and 305 deal with the alleged sending of “penis images” to a female official (?) by three members of the Swedish national soccer team.

Page 306 deals with a claim that FIFA spent about as much money on a celebratory event as on developing women’s soccer. (FIFA retorts that the numbers are incorrect.)

(Remember that these pages are the very first pages of the sport section after the table of contents, the equivalent of the front page of an ordinary news paper.)

This is a truly sickening agenda pushing and abuse of what should be the sports section.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 26, 2017 at 7:03 pm

Swedish teletext and PC obsession

with 5 comments

I have already written repeatedly about incompetent journalism in Sweden (in general) and the teletext of the Swedish national television (in particular, cf. e.g. [1]). At the same time, topics like feminism and political correctness have been extremely common.

Quite often these areas of concern overlap in my daily observations. For instance: Earlier today, I visited the aforementioned teletext online. For the umpteenth time, the sports section had prioritized PC issues over actual sports news.

Pages 303 and 304 (i.e. the first and second article page, after the “table of contents” for the sport section on pages 300–302) dealt with criticism of the nomination of one Deyna Castellanos, apparently an 18 y.o. amateur, for FIFA’s female player of the year award. This is border-line news worthy to begin with, better suited for a single paragraph in an overall discussion of the award—and it is given two full pages* at the virtual front page. I saw no other entry dealing with the awards or nominations in general… Apparently poor Deyna is not good enough for the nomination and this is proof that FIFA does not care enough about women’s soccer**. (Of course, another interpretation is that FIFA does care and wants to increase attention through picking someone young and exciting. Yet another that FIFA simply and honestly thinks very highly of her…) The pages were (justifiably) categorized as “soccer”.

*But beware that the teletext pages are much shorter than regular news paper pages.

**Specifically, a quote by a U.S. player, Megan Rapinoe, is given in Swedish “Det skickar en tydlig signal att Fifa inte bryr sig om damfotboll”, which re-translated into English amounts to “It sends a clear signal that Fifa does not care about women’s soccer”. This would not be quote-worthy for someone not trying to angle this into a “pesky old white men” issue, and that they have to resort to quoting a U.S. player is a strong sign that they either dug deep or deliberately have cherry-picked the topic from an English source. (Which is the case, I can only speculate. Neither case would happen with a news source and individual writer without an agenda, however.)

Page 305 (the third page) dealt with a Swedish cross-country skier (Charlotte Kalla) praising some form of social media campaign (“MeToo”) on sharing abuse experiences. In as far as this is news worthy, it has little or nothing to do with sport and should be put in a more general news sector. This page was very dubiously classified as “cross-country skiing”, likely for the sole reason that this is Kalla’s sport.

Page 307* contained claims by an alleged sports researcher (“Idrottsforskaren”) Jesper Fundberg, who is not surprised about alleged penis images sent by players on the national team… (There is no context given and there is no substantiation that this had actually taken place, but such information might be clear from previous reporting.) He says e.g. “Jag skulle säga att det finns en normalisering av hur män tar plats. Det är en normalisering av mäns sätt att trycka dit, trycka upp och trycka ner kvinnor på olika sätt”—“I would say that there is a normalization** of how men take up space***. It is a normalization of men’s way to press on, press up and press down**** women in various ways”. This page was extremely dubiously classified as “soccer”.

*I am a little confused as to what happened to page 306. In my recollection, these were all consecutive pages. It could be that I misremembered; it could be that page 306 dealt with either the same topic as 305 or 307 and was prematurely closed by me. By the nature of the medium, I cannot go back and check, but have to go by what is in those tabs I kept open. (No, the page is not in my browser cache either.)

**Likely in the sense of having become/begin considered a state of normality, something taken more or less for granted. While this is a legitimate academic and “social discourse” term, I have found it to be rare outside certain circles of ideologically driven pseudo-scientists and propagandists, and to some degree it serves as a shibboleth (at least when used outside an academic context).

***Or, possibly, how men take seats. Either which way, it is a metaphorical expression for alleged male behaviors centering around attention hogging and similar phenomena in the general, highly prejudiced and unfair “men feel entitled, especially when they compare themselves to women” genre.

****The sentence is only very marginally better in Swedish. He appears to invent expressions as he goes along… What he actually intends to say is almost certainly that tired old lie/prejudice that men oppress women.

This is exactly the type of astrology level bull-shit a serious news source should filter out—certainly not feature prominently. He contributes to anti-male prejudices, spreads misinformation, and gives a very distorted view of the world to those too uninformed or too weak at critical thinking see through it. His talk of “normalization” borders on the offensive, considering how heavily tilted large portions of Swedish society is towards women as the norm and/or the “good” sex.

To boot, he does not at all appear to be a sports researcher: Going by an Internet search, he is more of a gender studies guy to begin with, and I saw no signs of sports research. His own web pages calls him an ethnologist and consultant, and puts down his field of business as gender, equality, and diversity. (In the Swedish original, respectively “etnolog”, “konsult”, “genus”, “jämställdhet” and “etnisk mångfald”.) In other words: He is not only a gender studies guy, with all what that implies, but he actually makes money from spreading this type of misinformation and relies on the continuation of such prejudices for his livelihood…

(Note: Using “post by email” I originally managed to publish a version in which some changes were not yet written to disk. That version has been deleted.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 23, 2017 at 11:58 pm

Suggestions for a new press ethics / the indirect effects of fake news

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It is no secret that I am deeply troubled by the incompetence, irrationality, and partiality of journalists*. For some years, the short-comings of journalism have seen a partial cure through independent, Internet-based, sources of news and opinions. True, the average blogger is worse than the average journalist, but there are very many bloggers who make journalists look clueless.** True, many of the independent news sites are even more partial than traditional news papers, but they are partial in different directions and help to give readers a different perspective and to overcome the censorship*** and partisan angling that is common in journalism.

*For the sake of simplicity, I will mostly speak of “journalist”, “news paper”, and similar. This should not be taken to exclude e.g. TV news, TV reporters, and the like. The problem is a general one with traditional news media.

**And, frankly, when I hear journalists speak derisively about bloggers, or complain about bloggers not treating “real journalists” with sufficient respect, I marvel at their conceit and lack of self-insight.

***Usually driven by a fear that the readers will come to the “wrong” conclusion (i.e. another conclusion than journalist has) if exposed to the uninterpreted and unfiltered facts.

The new phenomenon of “fake news” threatens to end this cure: Firstly, the presence of “fake news” makes alternative sources of news less likely to be trusted to begin with. Secondly, traditional media and their allies are campaigning massively for more censorship against “fake news”. If that happens, even those alternative sources that engage in honest reporting could end up suffering severely, (E.g. because platforms like Facebook could choose to censor on the mere suspicion or because of uninformed or malicious complaints directed at actual news. This problem is worsened by the simultaneous increase in complaints against “hate-speech”—which, sadly and real occurrences of hate-speech notwithstanding, quite often amounts to nothing more than disagreeing with the politically correct “truth”) Considering how these things tend to run, it would also not be unsurprising if the bars were pushed higher and higher over time, giving traditional news sources their monopoly back. The meaning of “fake news” could very soon turn from actual fakes (“Trump is an alien”) to that which violates the world-view of the journalists or the politically correct (in Sweden, possibly, a study indicating differences between men and women that are in-born and not caused by societal brain-washing).

Depending on developments, “fake news” per se could prove to be a smaller problem than these side-effects…

Given this situation I have to call for another cure through a new type of press ethics based on strict adherence to principles like:

  1. To always report the facts in a manner that allows the readers to form their own opinions—even if they happen to deviate from the journalist’s. This includes not selectively filtering facts that that are unpleasant or incongruent with the journalist’s world view, and not presuming to be an arbiter of what is relevant and what not. (Except to the degree that space constraints prevent a listing of all details that e.g. Sherlock Holmes might have liked to hear.)
  2. Never to assume that journalists are more clever, better informed, better at critical thinking, …, than their readers. Quite often, the assumption is faulty even for the average reader—and it will virtually never be true for a significant part of the readership.
  3. Never to mix news and opinion. Opinion belongs in opinion pieces. If a journalist wants to express a certain opinion, he should keep the news clean and write a separate opinion piece, clearly marked as such. More often than not opinion pieces will be irrelevant; when they are relevant contrasting opinions should be allowed a say.

    As a notable special case, issues of ethics, “right and wrong”, …, are always (?) a matter of opinion, and, if ever, such opinions should only be applied when they are supported by a virtual consensus of the population. In many cases, a better solution is to contrast something against a specific set of rules. (E.g. by preferring “X’s article violates several rules of press ethics suggested by Michael Eriksson” rather than “X’s article is unethical”.)

  4. Ditto news and analysis, with the addendum that analysis is usually better left to an independent expert on the matter at hand than to a journalist (and that analysis might be relevant far more often than opinion). A good analysis, of course, will give all sides of the issue a fair hearing and will not be limited to using one particular approach. (Unless using the approach is uncontroversial: Solving a mathematical equation usually leads to the same result irrespective of which (sound) approach is used; however, a fiscal measure can lead to very different expected results when analyzed with different models.)

    I point especially to the many, many instances of journalists encountering a scientific study and jumping to a conclusion that is premature, only one of several possible, or simply nonsensical. Even something so trivial is often not understood as that “the study failed to show X” does not automatically imply “the study showed not-X”.

  5. To understand that the “common wisdom” among journalists, politicians, and the average citizen is often very far from what science actually says and to give preference to scientific opinion over personal opinion when reporting.
  6. To, as a counter-point, understand that not everyone who claims to be an expert actually is, that scientists often differ in opinion, and that the softer sciences are often fraught with ideological concerns.

    Experts tied to political or ideological movements are particularly likely (deliberately or through a biased world-view) to make flawed claims. To boot, the risk of encountering “experts” who simple lack the intelligence, tools, and/or depth and breadth of knowledge is considerably higher when talking with a member of a movement than with, say, a university professor.

  7. To always respect and convey any uncertainty present, especially in a legal context. For instance, someone suspected or accused of murder should always be referred to as “murder suspect” (and so on). In fact, considering how many miscarriages of justice take place, it is better to speak in terms of “convict”, “convicted”, and similar, even after a suspect has been found guilty—and to speak in terms “found guilty” rather than “guilty”. (In the U.S. system of bartering confessions for less punishment, not even a confession can be seen as conclusive proof of guilt.)
  8. To always give both parties in a controversy an equal say (or at least the opportunity for it) and to never side with either one in a news item. (That a journalist will side with one or the other in private is often unavoidable.) Siding within an opinion piece or analysis might or might not be justifiable depending on the circumstances, but it is clear that the siding should be based in reason and not emotions or prejudices about the parties involved.
  9. To never distort or exaggerate someones opinions or statements, including making assumptions about intent, motivation, inner state, unstated opinions, etc. A particular problematic case (that I have often complained about) is distortions like someone protesting against (militant) Islamism but being categorized as anti-Islam or even anti-Muslim. Another is the common assumption or claim that someone is racist or sexist based even on a factual, scientifically uncontroversial claim that does not fit the own world-view.

I stress that this list is by no means complete. There are likely many items of a similar type that can be added, with an even greater number coming from other areas, at least some of which are present in many current attempts at similar lists*. I could probably write several blog entries alone on journalists’ use of language… Admittedly, these several blog entries would be on the wrong abstraction level for a discussion of press ethics, but the point is that there other problem areas.

*While much of the above goes contrary to what many journalists appear to consider their role and would imply a major change of course.

I further stress that this list is intended for journalists and their like. Some of it can be taken to apply to e.g. bloggers or commenters too, especially where issues like representation of others’ opinions and other matters of “intellectual honesty” are concerned; however, much of it is simply irrelevant, redundant, or impractical when we move away from traditional journalism. (Starting with something as simple readers’ expectations: Blog–personal opinion. News paper–facts.)

As an aside: It is almost funny that the “fake news” debate has started in the wake of increased criticism of the press (at least in Germany). Even the phrase it self is close to the “Lügenpresse” (“lie press”, “liar press”) used by some German groups to belittle the press. While “Lügenpresse” has caused an outrage among journalists, I can only see it as unfair on two counts: Being too much of a blanket claim, seeing that some areas are worse than others, and ascribing a deliberate intent to the reality distortion that is often going on. More often than not, I suspect, it is just incompetence, in particular lack of critical thinking, that causes the distortion.

Written by michaeleriksson

February 25, 2017 at 12:07 am

Swedish teletext and incompetence

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In this era of Internet news, one of my main news sources is svt-text—the teletext (!) pages of the Swedish national television, which I visit about once a day (albeit in the Internet version). The brevity of each individual page (being limited by what fits within teletext) makes the “articles” highly compact and it is easy to get a quick overview. If something seems interesting, there is always the possibility to find more detailed information elsewhere.

Unfortunately, the people behind this service are not intellectual giants, and I often find myself sighing over the unnecessary quality loss and inconveniences.

To take a few examples (some Internet-specific; some problematic for TV users to):

  1. The article titles are often so lacking in information that is hard to judge which articles are worth reading without actually reading them. In at least some cases, in particular with sports, even the rough topic cannot be predicted from the title…

    For instance, I just called up the sports page and found the title “Rekordstort intresse för mästarna” (roughly “Interest for champions on record high”). What champions? What sport? What level (national? world? …?) What type of interest? Who is interested? Men’s team or women’s? “Ordinary” sports or “para-sports”?

    Looking at the detail page, the actual story is so uninteresting that few would have bothered to open it with a better title and it can seriously be questioned whether it should have even been published in the first place: The Swedish national champions in floorball (!) have managed to sell 100 (!!!) season’s tickets. The page did not say whether this was the men’s or women’s champions. Honestly, this is something that barely qualifies for the local news paper of wherever these champions were based.

    Sigh…

  2. During the conversion to HTML, links are added in such an unintelligent manner that any number occurring in the page stands the risk of being interpreted as referring to another page and being turned into a link. (Remember that teletext pages are identified by three-digit numbers.)

    This has, admittedly, grown considerably better over the years, but it still happens, possibly as much as 15 years after my first visit…

    This is the weirder as implies that the whole setup is amateurish, most likely in the form that a plain-text page is composed to be published “on the TV” without any alterations, while the Internet version is just generated from this plain-text without any semantic information. A professional would, as a matter of course, have kept the “master version” separate form the “TV version” and used a markup language (even be it a rudimentary one) to keep semantic information. The TV and Internet version would then both be generated from this master. This would include marking page references so that they cannot be confused with numbers during generation.

    Sigh…

  3. While the language level is poor overall, there are two specific ever recurring and highly annoying problems:

    Firstly, differences between A and B are almost invariably formulated as “A is better than B at [something or other]”, even when the “better” is highly subjective and even when it is not really supported by the text (e.g. because absolute numbers are compared when relative numbers would be appropriate). This in particular where differences between men and women are concerned*. I would only be marginally surprised if the headline “women are better than men at using drugs” would be used for an article reporting that women use more cocaine than men…

    *Generally, they have a problem with a feminist or PC world-view, but with a Swedish news source that almost goes without saying…

    Secondly, there is a virtual obsession with “hylla” (hard to translate, but “praise” when used as in the phrase “praise the Lord” is a decent match; “eulogize” can come close to, in some uses). If someone makes any form of positive statement about someone else, he allegedly “hyllade” him. If someone wins an international gold medal, one or two pages are dedicated to “tittarnas hyllningar” (or similar; roughly, “the viewers praise”)*. Etc.

    *Why they waste space by including the praise of the viewers in the first place is beyond me. It has no news value and the page could have been saved for something more valuable.

    The word, normally reserved for special occasions, is thrown around in a blanket manner and with very little value attached to it. Often it amounts to confusing “Would you have dinner with me?” and “Would you marry me?”…

    Sigh…

  4. Naturally, as news items arrive or are removed, page numbers will change. To handle this should not be that hard: Alter the page numbers and references of all involved pages and then publish them together. But no: Individual pages are altered separately and published immediately, leading to such effects as someone opening a page on X and finding an article dealing with Y or both page 110 and 111 having the exact same contents.*

    *Both can happen even when publishing all changes together, be it through unfortunate timing or because someone has opened an index page and then waited a minute or two before opening article pages. However, it will be a rare occurrence. The frequency at svt-text is far, far too high to be explained by such instances.

    Sigh…

  5. Generally, there are many problems around page numbers and page handling. For instance, it is quite common that the contents that once were on page X stays on page X for days—even after the page contents have officially changed. (Following the new contents as a virtual page within the page.) Or take the leader-board for the recent British Open/The Open golf-tournament: With a fellow Swede winning, I tried to follow the results through svt-text, but found that every single time that I refreshed the page, the leader-board had moved to another page. After some five or six times I gave up (ESPN had something that worked much better). Is it not obvious that such contents should be treated differently and fixed on the same page? This especially since they do have a dedicated number interval for “live” sports results that is used for that exact purpose, e.g. to track the score of soccer games.

    Sigh…

Written by michaeleriksson

August 2, 2016 at 10:34 pm

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The trial of the year—Victory! (Follow up)

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As I wrote in March, a jury ruled in favour of Novell in the fight against SCO, whose widely-considered-faulty claims had caused great costs and uncertainty for a number of other parties (including, obviously, Novell).

There was still some remaining uncertainty in theory (considering the overall situation and previous judgements, a practical problem was unlikely), because there were further “findings of facts” and various motions to be decided by the judge. As Groklaw now reportse:

Judge Ted Stewart has ruled for Novell and against SCO. Novell’s claim for declaratory judgment is granted; SCO’s claims for specific performance and breach of the implied covenant of good fair and fair dealings are denied. Also SCO’s motion for judgment as a matter of law or for a new trial: denied. SCO is entitled to waive, at its sole discretion, claims against IBM, Sequent and other SVRX licensees.

CASE CLOSED!

Maybe I should say cases closed. The door has slammed shut on the SCO litigation machine.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 11, 2010 at 6:09 pm

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