When you search for a particular term on Google, what is it that you expect it to return?
Relevant information related to the term? Perhaps a website, maybe a few blogs or news articles (but I repeat myself). If you’re lucky, maybe a research paper.
If Google’s algorithms are doing their jobs, that’s what one should expect, right?
Perhaps it’s just me, but I’m noticing a disturbing new trend in the returned results: with particular contentious search-terms, Google returns a bunch of “debunking” articles.
Due to current events, I recently searched for the term “Scytl,” and this is what Google gave me:
Here are the headlines of the first page of news results, listed in order, with “debunking” highlighted:
- Fact check: The U.S. military has not seized election servers in Germany (Reuters, Nov 16)
- No, The Army Didn’t Seize Server Showing Trump Election Landslide (NYT, Nov 18)
- Fact-check: Did the U.S. military seize servers tied to Dominion Election Systems? (Austin-American Statesmen, Nov 18)
- Company debunks conspiracy theory that its server showed a landslide for Trump (CNN, Nov 17)
- VERIFY: Claims about Scytl and election servers in Germany are false (KING5, Nov 17)
- Server in Germany Seized: Trump’s Lawyer (NTD, Nov 20)
- ‘Scytl Server Raid’: Louie Gohmert Brings Up Rumor (Heavy, Nov 14)
- False reports claim election servers were seized in Germany (AP, Nov 14)
- U.S. Army Didn’t Seize Election Servers in Germany (FactCheck, Nov 19)
- Did a ‘Seized’ Server in Germany Prove Trump Won 410 Electoral Votes? (Snopes, Nov 18)
(Heavy’s article is not red because their writing remained mostly neutral in presenting the story. And, of course, NTD’s article — which is also remarkably neutral in its presentation — came to the opposite conclusion. Notice the date of publication of their story, relative to everyone else.
There are a few very interesting observations one can make from these results.
It seems that the story originated from Rep. Louie Gohmert passing on a rumor he had heard from intelligence sources that something had gone down in Germany related to Scytl’s servers. All accounts seem to affirm that he was up-front about his own uncertainty and lack of knowledge about the details.
“I don’t know the truth. I know that there was a German tweet in German saying that on Monday, U.S. army forces went into Scytl and grabbed their server.”Louie Gohmert
From that kind of source, it would be hard to conclude that anything actually happened. But it would be ridiculous to assert that because stronger evidence had not yet been presented, it had therefore not happened.
And wouldn’t you know it; if they’d just waited a few days, they might have avoided the serious humiliation that may very well be theirs now:
We will see. Sidney Powell’s word is, after all, just a word until evidence is presented, most likely in court.
But either way, a lot of the “debunking” looks potentially premature, no?
But go back and look at those headlines. It would have been so easy to simply report the claim (which was an interesting one), and simply report that “no strong supporting evidence has been presented yet.” Bam. Done.
That’s what a real journalist would write.
As examples, let me share excerpts from the NTD piece and the Heavy piece, juxtaposed with excerpts the discredited mainstream:
President Trump’s Attorney Sidney Powell says claims about a server being seized in Germany are true.
A reporter asked if the server was related to the allegations of systematic election fraud.
Powell responded, “it is somehow related to this. But I do not know whether good guys got it or bad guys got it.”
In an interview on Nov. 13, Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert told Newsmax that a server connected to Dominion Voting had reportedly been seized in Frankfurt, Germany.
The servers belong to a Spanish election software company called Scytl.
Scytl has been accused of injecting “backdoors” in its election software, which enables election data to be altered.
Gohmert told NewsMax that U.S. voting information had been cycling through Scytl’s servers.NTD
And from the less-convinced Heavy:
Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas — who just defeated Democratic challenger Hank Gilbert to secure a ninth term and is among those who spoke at the “Million MAGA March” in Washington, D.C., on November 14 — discussed a rumor during a video conference that members of the U.S. Army raided the German headquarters of voting software protection company Scytl. The company has denied the rumor in a statement on its website.
In the November 13 video conference, Gohmert said he received information from “former intel people” that there was “extremely compelling evidence that could be gleaned from Scytl.” Gohmert mentioned that the company was now based in Germany and that German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on President Donald Trump to concede defeat to former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. Gohmert also noted that Scytl had filed for bankruptcy.Heavy
Notice the matter-of-fact presentation, and the neutral presentation of opposing viewpoints: ‘this representative said this; the company denied that.’ Both articles speak in terms of what has been said and by whom, not in terms of what is true. And there is a noticeable absence of weasel-words or priming judgments.
Now, let’s read what more “reputable news sources” have to say… and more importantly, how they say it:
Allies of President Trump are spreading another baseless rumor about computer-based vote manipulation, days after they gained attention for falsely claiming that a widely-used piece of election administration software had been used to delete votes for the president.
The newest conspiracy theory involves Scytl, a software company in Barcelona, Spain, that makes software for local election officials.
The false theory alleges that the U.S. Army recently raided Scytl’s office in Frankfurt and seized a computer server containing authentic vote totals for the 2020 election. This “undoctored” data, the theory claims, shows that Mr. Trump was not defeated but instead won in a landslide with 410 electoral votesThe New York Times
This is sophomorically heavy-handed. It reads as if Kevin Roose pulled up a copy of Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” and decided to employ every pattern Orwell denounced in poor writing as though they were techniques for serious reporting. Use of the terms “baseless,” “falsely,” “conspiracy theory,” and throwing scare-quotes around “undoctored” are all bombastic tools of emotive commentary, not journalistic reporting on a story.
An elections security company has had to pour cold water on conspiracy theories about it and the 2020 Presidential election that have been circulated about it by right-wing media and a Republican congressman.
As President Donald Trump’s allies attempt to attack the integrity of the election, some prominent right-wing figures and websites have homed in on the company, Scytl, because of the products it provided to some US clients.
As with many conspiracy theories, this one has different permutations and explanations. But the basic idea of the most extreme belief around this theory is this: The US Army or maybe the intelligence community raided (there was no raid) the Frankfurt, Germany offices of a company (that has no Frankfurt offices) that tallies all votes in US elections (it does not do any tallying of votes, much less conduct any official tally of all votes in the US, which no single company does).CNN
While not as horrific as the New York Times, CNN has similar signs of unjournalistic writing. “Conspiracy theories,” “attack the integrity of the election,” “prominent right-wing figures,” and “extreme belief” are all heavily subjective and judgmental expressions. And of course, it’s hard to get more snarky than putting parenthetical fact-checks behind claims, which would be annoying enough if the claims were actually made, but become outright ridiculous when they are “debunking” claims nobody made.
For example, who said there were offices in Germany? Are servers never leased or rented, or simply housed in spaces other than offices? This “rebuttal” becomes even more strange when, further down in the very same article, CNN admits that:
the company told the Associated Press that it temporarily had backup servers in Frankfurt at one point but that those servers have not been in use since 2019 and had nothing to do with its work in the US.
Huh… so, does that mean that it is possible to have servers in a place where it does not have an office?
Why rebut the claim that there were offices in Germany, when the actual claim is that there were servers in Germany?
And why take a company’s word on the matter as though it were some kind of definitive rebuttal?
As it seems more and more likely that all of these “debunkings” will soon themselves become debunked, I think it becomes more useful to shift our focus from the content itself, and zero-in on the form of presentation which seems to consistently correlate with inaccuracies, or even outright lying. Because even if the original story here about the raid on the German server becomes false, what is clear is that no one currently has enough information to be certain about what did or did not happen. Yet these stories are reporting with definitive claims that this did not happen. Their certainty over uncertain facts makes their claims false, because their certainty is a claim about being certain which we know is false.
And we see this presumptuous, un-journalistic pattern everywhere in the mainstream news media.
At a certain point, we can simply say that the Associated Press, the New York Times, CNN, and all of these “debunking” outlets have themselves become discredited.
They have certainly exceeded their own standards that they use to describe other sources as “discredited.” They call Project Veritas a “coordinated disinformation campaign” and call its videos “deceptively edited,” yet all of their stories are deceptively written (in their use of weasel words, judgmental framing language, and critical omissions), and the pattern of deceptive articles all slant in the same, progressive direction. What is that if not a coordinated campaign of propaganda?
“Disinformation,” if you will?
And while we can name all of the ways in which the writing and presentation of the legacy media is deceptive, pointing out specific patterns in their writing that any journalist professor in college would — in an objective context — criticize as dishonest and unprofessional, in what ways were Project Veritas’ videos “deceptively edited?”
If their videos were deceptively edited, surely it would be easy to explain how:
“They left out this critical scene which sets the shown content in a greater context.”
A claim like that would certainly justify calling Veritas’ videos “deceptively edited.”
But no such claim is made.
I far past time to think of the legacy-media in general as “discredited.” Not a particular story being “debunked,” but the entire apparatus and its dissemination means (Google) as discredited, as a provider of objective information. This is not based on the information itself being false — which it is — but upon a much more pervasive pattern of their mode of presentation, which is clearly and obviously non-objective, unjournalistic, and not even particularly connected to the real world. Most of their information appears gleaned from Twitter, or else from other articles which were themselves gleaned from Twitter, resulting in a grotesque telephone-game of digital quote-mining and re-summarizing. And this is called “news.”
If we wanted to use the most technically-correct term, I think this content is best described as “programming.” They are not providing information, so much as attempting to create strong emotional associations through repetition, and using a curated selection of stories as mediums to convey these associations to an audience under the pretense of providing “news.” Far from informing people in such a way that facilitates good decision-making, emotive associations of this kind actually impede clear thinking and judgment, because critical thinking is circumvented by strong emotional associations.
Put concisely: it literally makes you dumber to listen to these people.
At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.Billy Madison
Even if you think you are intellectually above them and can “see through” their narratives, the fact is that the information still works its associative magic. You can’t “see through” neurological connection that is established through repetition. All you can do is avoid those discredited sources.
And perhaps it is past time that we all begin doing exactly that.