OF DATA, COMMUNICATIONS, THE MEDIA AND HUMAN RIGHTS.

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Human rights: Food for an opinion-manipulating thought

 

Human Rights Reader 427

 

In development work, there is a tendency to confuse political discourse with technical knowledge, enhancing the power of select experts over a) political actors/activists, and b) over the empirical knowledge of the wider population (Nadia Lambek, Jessica Duncan)

 

  1. Since the use of quantitative measurements can be a means to a biased end, data and evidence from the social sciences can be used for regressive ends, especially depending on what is measured. The question for human rights (HR) activists is: Can we, without the economic clout or the power to mobilize citizens, use the fruits of measurement as valuable advocacy tools to promote progressive change in public policies? (Bill Jeffries)

 

  1. I do not deny: While measurement is a key component of understanding and addressing development progress, I do want to point out that there are limitations associated with indicator-based measurement tools (think SDGs) including:

 

  • Indicators are often developed on the basis of what data exists and not on how to best measure progress towards normative goals.
  • Indicators have analytic limitations and the selection of indicators is never a neutral process.
  • There are limitations to imposing indicators designed in one context (e.g., global) to another context (e.g., local).

 

  1. Emphasizing the quantification of change can thus lead to mistaking means (using quantitative measures for reporting or tracking social change) for ends (reporting or tracking qualitative transformations). This is often used to stir emotions…* (Think Trump)

*: The Oxford Dictionary added the word post-truth and defined it as the situation in which objective facts or data influence less than calls to emotions and to personal beliefs. There thus is a ‘true truth’ and an ‘emotional truth and the latter can be said to be a lie-transformed-by-an-emotion as long as it becomes the belief of a majority.

 

  1. A wider variety of data and news sources was supposed to be the safeguard of a rational age. However, studies repeatedly show that when confronted with diverse information choices, people rarely act like rational, civic-minded automatons. Instead, we are influenced by preconceptions and biases, and we usually do what feels easiest; we gorge on information that confirms our ideas, and we shun what does not. (think human rights) If we see something we do not like, we can easily tap away to something more pleasing. Then we all share what we found with our like-minded social networks, creating closed-off, shoulder-patting circles online. This creates an ecosystem in which the truth value of the information does not matter. All that matters is whether the information fits in our narrative. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/03/technology/how-the-internet-is-loosening-our-grip-on-the-truth.html?_r=1

 

From data to communications

 

Optimism in the world of today can only mean a lack of ‘true truth’ information. (Albino Gomez)

 

  1. In this era of exploding communications, let me here just quote a couple of respectable opinions:

 

  • In modern times, more than communicate we actually ‘connect with each other’. Moreover, we live overwhelmed by trying to take in all the information on offer, but we spend less time thinking. (A. Gomez)
  • Social media have given legions of idiots the right to talk, something they previously only did in a neighborhood bar with a glass of beer in their hand –and this did not hurt anybody. (Umberto Eco)
  • Used recreationally, the Internet risks reducing users to mindless clickers, racing numbly to the bottom of a bottomless feed; but done well, it has the potential to expand and augment the very action-oriented HR and development space that more and more of us pursue. (Roberto Bisio)
  • At any moment, public opinion is a chaos of superstition, disinformation and prejudice. (Gore Vidal)
  • True wisdom does not come from a mere accumulation of data that end up saturating us in a sort of mental contamination. (Pope Francis)

 

From communications to the news media

 

Today, achieving a TV appearance has become a sign of elegance and status… (U. Eco)

 

  1. Best here as well is to quote some more respectable opinions:

 

  • Not innocently, the media neglect offering a reading of the true world Why? Because information has openly become a trade good. The media are no longer profitable and whoever purchases the different media outlets has a personal interest. Human Rights are ‘too abstract’ for the media and so we end up not having a rational view of the world and we end up not knowing much of anything other than what is sensationalized. (R. Bissio)
  • Newspapers are the toys of a few rich men. Capitalists and editors are the new tyrants that have grabbed hold of the world. The media themselves have become the censors. Newspapers started existing to tell the truth, but today they exist to impede the truth is told. (G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936) [Nothing new under the sun…].
  • The elite makes good use of its paid agents in academia, in think tanks, in the corporate media and elsewhere to make sure that you are kept carefully misinformed and told what to think and how to react. (R. Burrowes)
  • People’s politics are increasingly defined by the media they consume rather than by loyalty to parties. (P. Iglesias)
  • Freedom of expression: What good is it if the other does not listen? (A. Gomez)
  • Can average readers distinguish fact from opinion, for instance from incompetent (or mal-intentioned) coverage? (S. Mysorekar) [Think fake news].
  • Every day, as I read the newspapers, it is as if I am attending a history lesson. Newspapers teach me by what they say and importantly by what they do not. (Eduardo Galeano)

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

schuftan@gmai.com

All 400+ Readers are available at www.claudioschuftan.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

George Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Aldous Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture. (Andrew Postman)

 

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