It’s not the claim, it’s the frame

Putting a couple notes from Twitter here. One of the ideas of SIFT as a methodology (and of SHEG’s “lateral reading” as well) is that before one reads a person must construct a context for reading. On the web that’s particularly important, because the rumor dynamics of the web tend to level and sharpen material as it travels from point A to point Q, and because bad actors actively engage in false framing of claims, quotes, and media.

But it’s also a broader issue when considering source-checking. I’ve had people share RT articles with me that are more or less “true”, for example. When I push back on people that they shouldn’t be sharing RT articles, since RT is widely considered to be a propaganda arm of the Kremlin, the response is often “Well, do you see anything false in the article? What’s the lie?”

This isn’t a good approach to your information diet, for a couple reasons. The first is that a news-reading strategy where one has to check every fact of a source because the source itself cannot be trusted is neither efficient nor effective. Disinformation is not usually distributed as an entire page of lies. Seth Rich, for example, did exist, was killed, and did work at the DNC. His murder does remain unsolved. Even where people fabricate issues, they usually place the lies in a bed of truth.

But the other reason to not share articles from shady sources is the frame can be false, even if the facts are correct. Take this coverage on the Seth Rich murder from RT for example, in a story about Assange offering a reward for his killers. The implication of the story is it is possible that Seth Rich was killed for leaking the DNC emails.

Rich worked as voter expansion data director at the DNC before he was shot twice on his way home on July 10. He died later in hospital.

“If it was a robbery — it failed because he still has his watch, he still has his money — he still has his credit cards, still had his phone so it was a wasted effort except we lost a life,” his father Joel Rich told local TV station KMTV.

See the frame? Responsible reporting would add context:

  • DNC emails universally believed by experts to be hacked, not leaked.
  • The “data director” position sounds email-ish, but had no access to email systems.
  • The Washington D.C. police said regarding the robbery that in robberies where someone is killed it’s extremely common to find that the credit cards and phone are not taken, because people generally get shot in robberies when something goes wrong, and the suspects are anxious to flee the scene before the police come investigating the gunshot.

There’s not a lie in the article (that I can see) but the way the article is framed is deceptive. And there’s no way to know that as an average reader, because you don’t know what you don’t know. Without expertise you can’t see what is missing or deceptively added. So zoom out, and if the source is dodgy, skip it. Find something else. Share something else. You’re not as smart as you think you are, and reading stories designed to warp your worldview will, over time, warp your worldview.