An Alarming Development — P.S.

UAL Cartoon 2017-04-18On 11/22/16, I posted to this blog an item entitled An Alarming Development [that link will take you there]. The basic theme might be looked back upon as a caveat about screening of what individual citizens can see in the media [and more importantly, who decides what content is “allowed”]. The “alarm bell” for me that prompted that post was an article about “fake news” that basically said Google, FaceBook and Twitter [et al] were being pressured to screen out “fake news”.  While that may sound good on the surface, it raises the question as to who decides what is fake and what is real [I have since posted additional blogs on the subject of “Fake News”, e.g.: News [Or NNTN?] Circa 2017; Fake News Or Just Meaningless News?; Announcing My New App News4Me].

The reason I’m posting this item this week is that this is one of those insidious trends that can sneak up on us, as a society, and “grab us” before we realize what has happened [by which time it would probably be too late to reverse the trend because our culture would have already “adapted” to being manipulated in this way].

I chose the seemingly unrelated cartoon about United Airlines as the image for this post because, in my opinion, the media has correctly pounced on the recent incident of physical removal by force of a passenger from one of its flights as a way of enforcing their policies for dealing with overbooking situations.  All airlines overbook because it makes perfect sense financially to do so. All airlines use this technique to maximize actual passenger counts [and therefore profits]. United’s failure was not in using that technique; it was in not having policies in place [and employees trained and empowered to “do what is right” rather than just blindly follow procedures] to effectively manage a situation like the one that occurred that day [no volunteers to get “bumped” to another flight, even with incentives offered]. That incident will end up costing United at least millions, and quite likely tens — maybe scores, maybe hundreds — of millions of dollars, when simply letting incentives go as high as necessary to get the seats needed would have been, probably at most, a few thousand [or $10,000, or whatever] more than they had already offered [practically everybody has some incentive value at which getting involuntarily “bumped” is “an offer they can’t refuse”].

The operative phrase in the above paragraph is “in my opinion”.  Although all of the media coverage I’ve seen on this incident has been pro-passenger and anti-United, I’d be surprised if there are not at least some people of the opinion that the issue was overblown and United was within its rights to “do whatever was necessary” to enable the flight to proceed. The reason I’ve gone into this level of depth on this incident is because it relates directly to the broader issue I’m writing about — What is appropriate “news” coverage? and 2) Who decides what is “appropriate”?

What Is “Appropriate”?

So what content is “appropriate”?  Although it’s difficult for me to imagine how anybody could actually think posting a murder on FaceBook in real time [which was done just a few days ago] is “appropriate”, I suppose there are probably some people out there who believe it is the killer’s First Amendment right to post whatever he wants, including himself in the act of killing another person in cold blood. On the other end of that spectrum might be a newspaper editorial saying, in so many words, that we all need to listen to each other better and respect each other more regardless of our political leanings and party affiliations. Between these two extremes literally unquantifiable numbers of situations, each one no doubt garnering support from any philosophical direction one might pick [see the Loss Of A Common Value System page at this site for some additional insight from this perspective].

Who Decides What Is “Appropriate”?

And who decides what is “appropriate”? This is probably the bigger, more insidious issue.

An article in today’s USA Today [see it here: USA Today Article 4/18/17] about the above-mentioned posting of a murder on FaceBook, while sounding good on the surface [FaceBook says “We know we need to do [a] better” job of finding and deleting this kind of content], still sounds an alarm about over-censoring of content [not this content, in my opinion, but that’s my opinion].

If there is no screening of content, it’s completely up to the reader/listener/viewer to decide. If there is any screening, the potential is there for “somebody” to determine “appropriateness” based on his/her ideological beliefs, thereby screening out content that the reader/listener/viewer never even has the opportunity to read/hear/see. Leaning too far toward the latter [any screening] would no doubt end up with the worst-case ultimate outcome — totalitarianism. Leaning too far toward the former [no screening] causes all of us to have to filter through the barrage of content and decide for ourselves what is “appropriate” [see my post News [or NNTN?] Circa 2017 for a guideline for personal self-screening].

So …

I know I may sound overly skeptical or even paranoid about this, but to me, this is something we all need to not only be keenly aware of, but to “monitor” closely these days. Otherwise, George Orwell may have been off on the date in his 1949 book 1984, but right on the money in his subject matter!

img_7026 Charles M Jones

Charles M. Jones

Author: Charles M. Jones, PE, CPA

[retired — neither license active]

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