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Gus Van Horn blog

Reblogged:Google and Political Fantasies About Technology

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Google has just told us a lot more about itself than it has about any of the conservative news organizations whose claims its new "fact-checking" "feature" can or will.

"Google's New 'Fact-Checker' Is Partisan Garbage," argues David Harsanyi over at The Federalist. After demonstrating an interesting tendency for the new "feature" to scrutinize only conservative sites, and sometimes effectively put words in their mouths, Harsanyi summarizes:

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It's the facts that he wants, and he knows he will still have legwork to do after he gets them. (Image via Wikipedia.)
f this is the standard for corrections and dissuading people from visiting a site, what possible reason could there be for left-wing sites that regularly make arguable or false assertions about economics, history, science, and politics, like Vox and ThinkProgress and many others, to be spared from this fact-checking? It's one thing for us to read publications through filters. We do it all the time. But it's another for a search engine to manipulate perceptions about those sites -- and only conservative ones -- before people even read them. [format edits]
This reminds me of a couple of things.

First, it brought me back to my undergraduate days, way back in the late eighties, when I was contemplating a course of independent study centering around Ayn Rand's fiction. One of the first things one of my potential "advisers" uttered upon hearing the name, "Ayn Rand," was "Isn't she a fascist?" So, brand-new technology, same old, bullying left. Yes, Google's participation in this farce does expose them as sympathetic to leftists. But it also shows us that leftists imagine that they can use technology to keep people from discovering differing opinions on their own. Fortunately, they aren't a government, with the ability to censor the likes of David Harsanyi, so all they can do is psychologically project their own second-hand way of reaching opinions onto others and "help" them by means of smearing dissidents. Despite lip service to "facts", the left sees technology as a means of disseminating and enforcing an orthodoxy, rather than of helping people form solid opinions based on independently verifiable facts.

Second, this way the left sees technology as an aid to its cause reminds me of a somewhat similar fantasy I have observed on the right: If the left sees ideas as important (even if they implicitly admit they can't defend their own with facts), many on the right see them as irrelevant. All we need is the easy access to "facts on the ground" that high tech makes available, and freedom will burst forth throughout the world:
Here's another counterexample to the notion that technology -- unaided by an improvement in a society's intellectual climate -- can effect meaningful social change. [Glenn] Reynolds notes that Philippine President Joseph Estrada was brought down by a text-messaging flash mob. He fails to mention that this flash mob gathered in exactly the same place the old-fashioned mob that overthrew Ferdinand Marcos 15 years before had gathered. I dare say that unless the people of the Philippines make fundamental cultural and political changes, some other corrupt president will probably have to be overthrown later on. What difference does it make that a president can be overthrown if he never gets replaced by anything better? [bold added]
See also their current leader, the "Arab spring", and possibly also Iran. And see also scores of free-market economists who scratch their heads at how socialist regimes keep popping up despite a century of failure by socialism -- which they have documented for almost as long -- to bring anything but misery and death, much less prosperity.

Leftists think ideas are important, but can't defend their ideas. They see technology as a way to do their reeducation more effectively. Too many on the right think ideas are unimportant, that people want prosperity enough that simple exposure to facts will obviate the difficulty of having to convince them of anything in the fight for freedom. They see technology as the magic pill that will make everyone in favor of their version of freedom once the facts are out. Both sides are wrong. Opinions can and should be based on facts, and facts don't force people to act in a certain way. Technology doesn't obviate the need to think about opinions or the need to guide one's actions based on sound ones.

-- CAV

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