Elephant captured on Nullarbor Plain

elephant-nullarbor-plain
Photo by Mario Micklisch https://flic.kr/p/peLSQA

An African elephant dubbed ‘Ferd’ by social media followers has been cornered in an industrial shed near a roadhouse on the Nullarbor Plain. Ferd escaped from the Perth Zoo three months ago and has been spotted variously in WA and the Northern Territory. Facebook posts claimed sightings on Groote Eylandt.

Shed owner Tony is making a bit of cash on the side charging travellers $10 to pose for an elephant selfie. The Grey Nomad website www.welikefreestuff.dot described this as “exploitation” and lamented the lack of a seniors’ discount.

“It’s weird,” said Tony. “Everybody takes selfies to post on Facebook but nobody actually wants to talk about the elephant in the room.”

At which point you can see this  story about Ferd the elephant is not unlike the proliferating fake news stories on social media which commonly use a  headline and intro like this to suck you in. The more insidious fake news items, however, are portrayed as legitimate news stories and are often picked up and shared.

Satire is not fake news and vice versa

Some of the fake news websites which churn out stories cast themselves as satirists, but it is a loose label, apt to blow off in the wind. A yarn about an elephant wandering the Australian desert is probably satire.

It is satire when someone suggests the Pope is marrying (famous female pop singer) and running for the White House. Fake news is a story about the Pope endorsing Donald Trump (quickly debunked by hoax tracking website www.snopes.com.

WTOE 5 News, which broke the story, claimed that news outlets around the world were reporting on the Pope’s unprecedented endorsement. But Snopes found that no reputable news publications confirmed it, because WTOE 5 News, masquerading as a local television news outlet, does not publish factual stories.

But social media is not so discriminating. As Harvard University’s Nieman Journalism Lab pointed out, this fake yarn, which appeared in July, was shared almost 1 million times, versus 36,000 shares for the story debunking it.

One such story prior to the US election suggested the Amish had committed their vote to Donald Trump. Only 10% of Amish vote at all.

Another story suggested Barack Obama was abolishing the oath of allegiance in US schools. Sounds believable but simply not true.

Before people caught on to the idea of making money by spreading fake news on social media, the so-called supermarket tabloids cornered the market.

Here you will see obviously misleading headlines like “Diana is still alive” or “Hillary Gay Crisis” or “Aliens settle in San Francisco”.

By contrast, fake news stories circulated on social media prior to the election were entirely plausible – until you read to the end or read the website’s disclaimer.

But who has the time to (a) read the whole article before (b) sharing it or (c) checking out the veracity via factcheck.com or snopes.com?

Fake news here to stay

David Glance, writing in The Conversation, says fake news is driven by advertising and is here to stay. Glance, Director of Centre for Software Practice, University of Western Australia, says a great deal of the recent fake news targeted at Trump supporters appears to have originated in the Macedonian town of Veles. Websites with legitimate-sounding names fed pro-Trump fake news, which in turn generated large revenues from traffic generated through Facebook shares.

Glance says it may be tempting to think that news from reputable media organisations is more reliable, but they too are still influenced by partisan opinion and the pressures to advertise and generate traffic and sales.

“Ultimately, there is no protection from fake news other than to adopt a sceptical view of all news and take the truth of it on balance of likelihood and confirmation from multiple reputable sources.”

Facebook and parent company Google say they are going to crack down on fake news sites. The New York Times reported last week that Google would ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service. Facebook updated its policy, which already says it will not display ads on sites that show misleading or illegal content, to include fake news sites.

Paul Who?

So who are the people who spend their days (and nights) churning out fake news? Some publications have identified Paul Horner, described by Wikipedia as an internet news satirist and writer. Horner confesses to being as described and highlights a few of the stories he has written that have been picked up and shared by internet news sites. The Amish was his, so too Obama banning the oath of allegiance and Horner has recently told the Washington Post that he helped get Donald Trump elected.

Horner’s various websites pose as legitimate websites, but if you jump to the disclaimer, the author leaves himself an out by clearly stating that “…all news articles contained within are fiction, and presumably fake news.”

As David Glance observed, mainstream media is not immune to fakery, or at least allowing embellished news to be published. The blame is placed upon gutted newsrooms, where veterans with 20 years’ or more experience are replaced by school leavers and interns. The Guardian quoted an (un-named) journalist who described the pressure to perform online:

“So much news that is reported online happens online. There is no need to get out and doorstep someone. You just sit at your desk and do it and, because it is so immediate, you are going to take that risk. Editors will say, ‘The BBC got that six seconds before we did.’”

Some editors defend the bull at a gate approach as online news can be instantly updated (or taken down), when errors become obvious. FOMM can confirm this strategy as we have occasionally corrected minor errors on our website (it’s Hillary with two l’s, Bob).

Fake news is nothing new. As David Glance says, quoting French philosopher Michel de Montaigne (re the turmoil and divisions of 16th century France):

“Is it not better to remain in suspense than to entangle yourself in the many errors that the human fancy has produced? Is it not better to suspend your convictions than to get mixed up in these seditious and quarrelsome divisions?”

Fake news stories only a problem if you read them

Facebook has been blamed by some commentators for helping The Donald get elected, but it’s a specious argument. Filmmaker Michael Moore said people in America’s forgotten ‘rust belt’ made their minds up about Trump years ago.

Moore was interviewed in July by www.cnn.com (a real news website), where he talked about the reasons why Trump would win.

If he’s able to pull it off, it will be because on that day, a lot of angry white guys, a lot of guys who have a justifiable right to be angry — guys and women– who have suffered during the last decade,” Moore said.

The Pew Institute says 13% of Americans (about 41 million, 41% of whom are over 65); do not have internet access because: the internet is too difficult to use (34%), they have no interest in going online (32%), or internet access is too expensive (19%).

Moore’s angry white men were never going to be swayed by fake stories about the Pope or the Amish, if indeed they read them in the first place.

 

Surfing the gender vote

surfing-the-gender-vote
Photo “The Watch” by Eric Neitzel https://flic.kr/p/kQRQLp

So we’re walking along the beach, me feeling over-dressed in board shorts, t-shirt, socks and joggers (to protect a bruised toe). We passed a group of more appropriately beach-clad women and girls (though one wore a wet suit), taking surfing lessons from a sun-worn guy in his 30s. Not that I ever surfed, but it seems to me that in the 1960s, surfing was something boys did while the girls sat on the beach, admiring their boyfriends and guarding personal items.

Later, She Who Always Wears Sunscreen came out of the change rooms wearing shorts and a bra.

“Seems I left my t-shirt on the beach,” she mused. “And I don’t feel like going back to get it.”

It says a bit about feminism in 2016 that a woman can feel OK about going around in public in a bra, however temporarily.

It covers considerably more of me than some of the women I’ve seen on the beach,” she rightly observed.

Despite statistics that suggest women make up only 15% of the surfing cohort, the sport is rising in popularity among the under-20s. There’s lots of research about this, though you need to get behind click bait articles like “Top 20 Hottest Girl Surfers” to find there has always been a determined posse of women who wanted to surf waves – since the 1920s even.

Yet Cori Schumacher, writing in The Guardian, contends that despite female pro surfers pushing the standards ever higher, they still have to compete with a double standard that demands they define their femininity within ‘a male sexual economy’.

Schumacher explained this double standard goes further than female surfers feeling pressure to surf in a bathing suit. Body image issues aside, prize money for professional surfers is skewed heavily in favour of men.

In 1976, the first year pro women surfers were paid, 20% of prize money was allocated to women. In 2011, when Schumacher wrote this, 22% of the total prize purse went to female surfers.

The ‘babes in bikinis’ gender caricature aside, there are plenty of strong female role models listed in Surfer Today.

In politics, as in surfing, one not ought to confuse a woman’s right to compete with an assumption that being female equals feminist ideals and/or leftie politics.

There have been more than enough female world leaders to suggest that they are just as likely to lean to the right as the left of politics.

It is now known that 42% of women voted for Donald Trump in last week’s shock election result. The New York Times noted that 70% of those participating in an exit poll said they thought Trump’s behaviour toward women was ‘a problem’, yet 30% of people who said that voted for him anyway.

One can hardly rely upon US election statistics to define social trends when 46% of Americans did not vote at all.

The Atlantic tried to set the record straight about gender voting in the US, maintaining that 54% of women voted for Hillary Clinton and 42% for Donald Trump (it also means 4% voted for someone else, but let’s not muddy the waters).

Exit-poll data indicated that 94% of black women and 68% of Hispanic women voted for Clinton, The Atlantic reported a few days ago.

The article cited Kelly Dittmar from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University: “If only women voted in this election (and no one else), Clinton would have won.”

That kind of wishful thinking aside, the more relevant number is that roughly 100 million eligible people (approximately 48% of whom are women), did not vote. Many journalists opined that those who did not vote were lazy or apathetic.

Yet the Pew Institute’s research on non-voters said only 2% cited ‘laziness’ as an excuse, the same proportion of those who said they could not vote because they were in jail or on parole.

The five main reasons for not voting were:

  • No time or just haven’t done it (voted) 19%;
  • Recently moved 17%;
  • Don’t care about politics 14%;
  • No confidence in government 12%;
  • Not a US citizen 7%.

We have seen many successful women come and go in the ruthless sphere of international politics. Recent female Prime Ministers include Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley (New Zealand), Julia Gillard (Australia) and Portia Simpson-Miller (Jamaica). Incumbent government heads include Theresa May (UK), Angela Merkel (Germany) and Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi.

Forbes Magazine recently published a list of the world’s most powerful women, currently headed by Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen. After November 8, 2016, Hillary Clinton may be off the list altogether.

One might also expect First Lady Michelle Obama to drop off this list too, although she has plenty of support to have a crack at the top job.

The list included 11 heads of state, one 90-year-old monarch, two first ladies and two top-seed diplomats.

A FOMM reader greeted me at the markets one day, suggesting as a future topic the humble bicycle’s role in gender relations, circa 1890. Simply put, the bicycle allowed Victoria-era women freedom of movement; moreover, the practicalities of riding a bike dressed in hoop skirt and girdle led to less cumbersome garments and, ahem, greater freedom of movement. David Hendrick remarked upon this in a paper for the University of Virginia, noting that the advent of the bicycle gave Victorian women autonomy and a way of leaving the house without relying on men for travel. He agreed with women’s rights advocate Susan B Anthony that the bicycle had “done more to emancipate women that anything else in the world”.

This was a good 30 years before the first Wahine took a long board out beyond the breakers, but perhaps you’ll see my point.

Cori Schumacher, an openly gay, world-ranked surfer, says she grew up surfing in California in the 1980s and 1990s, but very few women surfed in the earliest days of her youth.

Surfing was then described as a ‘male-dominated’ activity, but even with the growing population of female surfers, there has not been a corresponding increase in representation or equal pay.

Schumacher said “…rather than surfing being merely male-dominated, it is also a farm for masculinity and androcentrism.”

No doubt someone is running a book right now on the prospect of an androcentric Trump presidency appointing any women (apart from the third first lady, if you get my meaning), to a position of influence.

The odds of a prominent Muslim woman being appointed, even as a White House advisor, are longer still. Interestingly (facts gleaned from my kind of surfing), show that two of the Muslim women described in this article were appointed as White House advisors.

As if that were not enough, FOMM’s online surfing also uncovered three new words: androcentrism (placing the male human being at the centre of one’s world view), Wahine (female surfer) and Awk! (old school cry of alarm or excitement – e.g., spotted an excellent wave).