Reclaiming the Future: Journalism

Posted on: 2022-03-02

**Updated: 2022-04-16 **

The world is becoming an increasingly confusing and fractured place. Driving this are a variety of actors and reasons. Instead of describing the problems, something I've often touched on in this blog, in this post I hope to discuss some ways that things can be improved. The over arching idea is to reclaim objective reality.

It's going to be very hard to improve anything if:

The ideas here don't pretend they can fix all these issues, but is an attempt to at least address some of them, and in a way that at least seems plausible.

Finally I should add something about where I'm coming from. If we want a better future we need an achievable plan to get there. The mentality of "blow it up" (aka "revolution") and something better will be magically be built on the ashes is reckless and historically vacant. The suffering during the "event" and whatever comes afterwards is bad and real.

So lets not do that.

You're unlikely to get where you want unless you know where you want to go. You are most likely to get there, or somewhere close, if you have a plan that takes you there in plausible steps. What I write here isn't as grand as this - more of some plausible first steps. What's the purpose of these steps? To get closer to a place where there is some reasonable shared objective reality and that we can actually discuss things.

Reclaiming News

A New Fairness Doctorine

The Fairness Doctorine were a set of laws that aimed to provide a basis for accountability within news reporting. It was far from perfect, but it did mean that openly lying and claiming to be a news source was significantly more risky, difficult and costly than it is now.

A New Fairness Doctorine could improve on the original by requiring news sources to have to be able to backup their reporting - being able to demonstrate their reports are based on facts and/or good faith representation of the situation. Not doing so could lead to fines and other restrictions. If they can't/won't do that they can't call themselves 'news'.

A hole such legislation could fall into is both sideism, and giving oxygen to fringe ideas as if all ideas are equal.

A sign that 'news' as a concept is being seriously abused is the top rated anchor on Fox News using as a defense in court that they aren't a credible news source. So why are you on a 'news' channel?

If social media wants to distribute "news", it would also have to adhere to these doctorines. This is not a side issue as around half of all Americans get their news from social media.


In the past funding for news sources largely came from adverts. This model has broken:

Moreover the internet advertising model also leads to low quality reporting via the use of clickbait and aggregation. Doing high quality investigative reporting is expensive - certainly compared to just creating clickbait or summarizing another sources expensive investigation.

Cracking this issue is not easy. Some ideas:

These all have some issues. Some subset whilst not perfect could greatly improve the ecosystem of good investigative reporting, by providing the needed funding.

Another way of raising money that the government could supply to news sources would be by making retaining user data costly. Doing so would would tax one of the most corrosive business models on the internet, and use that money for something good.

If journalism is the fourth estate it's not good enough to just leave it to market forces to make it work. Indeed our current situation is in large part due to the financial errosion of the system. If it's important it needs to be funded such that it can do the required work.


The proliferation of news sources online leads to other problems. When you arrive at a link, how do you know the quality of the information presented there? An obvious improvement on transparency would be to require news source to at a minimum have to list it's funding sources.

With a New Fairness Doctorine there would be a limit on the claim of being news.

There could be an acreditation service/s that a news service can apply to join for a extra level of trust. Such a service could be private-public, or funded from news sources themselves perhaps if there was reasonable funding available. All such accreditation must conform to some clear and measurable ground rules.

Limiting Social Reach

Disinformation, propaganda and memes spread through the internet in many ways. Social media provides a very effective vector. Clickbait and lies are typically more likely to spread quickly and widely. One way to limit this effect is to limit reach.

A worrysome aspect of social media, leaving aside that it provides a very effective way to spread misinformation and propaganda, is underneath it is a business model where engagement is the thing to be maximized. Engagement is money. This maximization is achieved via computers finding information to keep you engaged. That mechanism is not only manipulative and opaque, but also does not care about the quality of the information, only that it keeps you engaged. A propaganda pipeline first focuses on things that engage, and then leads you off down a rabbit hole of material increasingly detatched from reality.

Note that not all social media platforms are equal. For example:

There are probably more.

Perhaps unsurprisingly Facebook hits all of these issues badly, made even worse because of the size of it's audience. Reddit is significantly better in most ways. That's not to say that there isn't bullshit on reddit, but at least I can anonymously look at what's there. Curation can be pretty questionable on some subreddits (and in the process make a kind of meta bullshit bubble - I'm thinking of "r/conservative" here) - but overall this is still much better than Facebook.

Freedom of Reach

Freedom speech in the USA doesn't mean everybody has the right to say whatever they want to whoever they want however they want. Freedom of speech protects a person from being restricted to freedom of expression by the government.

Also it doesn't imply "freedom of reach". The government can't restrict your freedom of expression - but that doesn't mean that a person or organisation has any obligation to spread your opinions.

Arguably one of the biggest issues around social media is the money and propaganda value of spreading "content" widely, and therefore questionable content having a huge reach.

Limiting the Reach

Lets first note that the amount of people that view a social media sources content is important. If there are 10 people that promote white supremacy - thats a problem, but nowhere near the problem of millions of people getting that same content.

With great power (reach) should come great responsibility.

One idea would be to have tiers of social media rules based on reach. The more people the source can reach the more restrictions they have. For example for under 100 'followers' perhaps there are no restrictions. Under 1000 limited restritions - perhaps enforced by fines, stopping ad payment or limiting posting/access. At higher counts the source depending on it's contents has higher restrictions still. If presenting as 'news' it should have some or all of the New Fairness Doctorine apply.


Europes GDPR has an objective of making storing information on users somewhat costly. This helps for privacy. It also helps in reigning in the financial strength, incentives and information asymmetry of social media.

Citizens United, is a law such that claims a company can be treated as 'person' in terms of free speech. This allows companies to inject vast amounts of money into politics. It gives people with wealth and/or power oversized speech - typically in the interest of companies, the wealthy and those in power. In a democracy, each person gets one vote, and in doing so provides some leveling of the field. Through Citizens United companies have the ability to sway huge amounts of people, in effect giving them outsized control. This diminishes democracy.

Citizens United should be repealled. It makes no sense in a democracy. Moreovoer and obviously a company isn't a person.