In yesterday’s article we postulated that mainstream media is forced to go with the most popular trend (even if that trend goes against the verifiable truth) for economical reasons. Mainstream media is a business, it relies on its clients (information consumers) to exist, just like any other business, so it must go where the money is. That’s why, in many cases, the information presented by mainstream media tends to be unreliable.
What about other types of media? In today’s article I’ll try to describe two other types, each with different characteristics.
Side Stream Media
If mainstream media is the biggest chunk of the media businesses, covering the most divers demographics, side stream media is a type of information business that’s related to niches. It has very specific demographics, a few orders of magnitude smaller than mainstream media, and it gravitates about medium term verifiable truths.
If weather and traffic news are immediately verifiable, things like the performance of a certain computer can only be verified after a certain amount of time has passed. So, as you guessed, tech news is a type of side stream media. This is still news that is important (technology is a big part of our lives) and it has a higher degree of verifiability than social, or political truth.
Because of the size of their customer base, side stream media outlets have a very specific behavior. One one side, they tend to be more stable, once they’re established, but they also take more time to establish, because there are many outlets competing for a small population of consumers.
The medium term verifiability of the news makes it relatively reliable. It’s hard to survive if you keep feeding news about techs that aren’t really happening.
Down Stream Media
At the end of the spectrum, the smallest group of media outlets is made of downstream media publications. I use the term “publications” very loosely here, because in many cases, these downstream media outlets are very small groups of people, or even individuals (“whistleblowers”).
Down stream media reveals social or political truth, with the vast majority of it being immediately verifiable. But not all of it is immediately verifiable, or its verifiability is obfuscated by various political smoke screens, mainstream media counterattacks, or other social constructs. That’s why these groups are often characterized (by mainstream media, mostly) as “conspiracy theory” outlets. There are big differences, though, between established whistleblowers, and flat earthers, for instance. They are both at the edge of society, but for different reasons. One group has information that can be verified, the other is contradicting evidence.
The best (and probably the most longevive) example of downstream media is the group Anonymous. Other examples are Julian Asange or Edward Snowden. These persons / groups are revealing very counter-trendy information, with very big risks. In many situations, the risk is actually manifesting, hence the name “downwards”. The tendency of these media outlets is to go mostly down: they are either suppressed by political action, ridiculed by mainstream media counterattacks (paid and promoted by political actors too), or simply their source is physically eliminated. The lifespan of downstream media is usually a few years, very rarely longer than a decade.
So, is it even possible to live in a world in which truth can be reliably and unbiasedly disseminated?
My answer to this is: “it depends”.
It depends on our expectations. If we truly believe that we live in a perfect worlds, we’re gonna be in for quite the disappointment. If, on the other side, we take everything with the regular grain of salt, it may be easier.
It depends on the current political and economical context. Calmer and more prosperous times are creating populations which are harder to influence, hence trends during these times are not that contradicting with the general truth. But political turmoil and economical downturns (or black swan events, like the Covid pandemic) are making populations more susceptible to counter-truth trends, and during these times mainstream media adjusts in the wrong direction.
In other words, when the times are rough, mainstream media made them rougher.
It also depends on how much we have to interact with the world. We all have social obligations to fulfill. If we can fulfill them without depending on knowing what the social or political truth is, then we may have a simpler, happier life. If we’re right in the middle of the action, it would be more difficult, we will have to spend way more time and energy assessing the “truth”.
If you’re in the category above (if you live among people, that is), tomorrow’s article has some small bullet points that can help navigating mainstream media in a less toxic way.