Posted by Curt on 6 January, 2023 at 3:55 pm. 4 comments already!


By Stavroula Pabst

Why are we being bombarded by fact-checks and “anti-disinformation” efforts in our timeline scrolls? When reading the news, we too often find that so-called experts are behind whatever claim media professionals make, no matter how outlandish or disconnected from reality such claims may be.
Through his concept and exploration of spectacle, a totalizing, negating force over our lives that results in what is really “unlife,” French Philosopher Guy Debord’s famous Society of the Spectacle (1967) and his follow-up booklet, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988), provide insights into these and related phenomena.
When it comes to “fact-checks” and “experts,” Debord is clear: in a society subjugated by the economy, where “everything that was once directly lived has faded into representation,” such professionals do not exist to provide us the truth — they exist to serve the state and media through lies and distortions spun into what appears as true. If the “experts” lose influence, it will be because the public learns and articulates that their job is to systematically lie.
“Disinformation” appears as one of the biggest bogeymen in today’s increasingly online world. Governments warn of the dangers it apparently poses to society and democracy, and mainstream media organizations in turn direct resources to counter-disinformation and to fact-checking. In the name of “being informed,” people cannot often go online without being bombarded by fact-checks or warnings about what content to consume and share with their social and professional networks.
While anti-disinformation efforts proliferate, what’s missing from the conversation is a discussion about power. The powerful have reasons for wanting to combat what they consider to be “disinformation” — they want their version of the truth to become ours. Many commentators observe as such, noting that so-called disinformation researchers, fact-checkers and experts are often partisan in nature who frequently disseminate things that are not true.

But a larger force is at work within the rise of fact-checking and other counter-disinformation efforts. That force is our society’s current arrangement of appearances, the totality of social relations mediated by images, or spectacle.
Spectacle, as elucidated in Debord’s The Society of the Spectacle, is a concept that can help us to understand seemingly unconnected, yet deeply intertwined phenomena that have come to fruition as the economy has subjugated society to its needs (as opposed to the other way around), and thus to recover our ability to experience life directly.
As its dominance over our everyday lives grows complete, the spectacle has become powerful enough to turn our understanding of what is true upside down. Because spectacle replaces real life with a mere mediated representation of life that cannot be experienced directly, it provides a framework where mass deceptions and lies can consistently and convincingly appear as true.
Thus, spectacle is perhaps one of the most effective tools we have to explain how elite deceptions, including fabrications and lies about imperialist wars like those in Iraq and Syria, can consistently go unpunished and even unnoticed. As such, it follows that spectacle can help us understand how modern fact-checks and counter-disinformation initiatives can consistently do the opposite of what they claim.
This article examines spectacle’s current “lines of advance” as they appear in our news cycles, feeds and timelines, where “fact-checks” and “expert’s” claims are seemingly impossible to avoid.
This cannot be understood solely as a critique of media systems but must involve spectacle as a whole, which as a concept (as Debord’s book title, The Society of the Spectacle, suggests) pertains to all of society. Aspects of modern life are “not accidentally or superficially spectacular,” or otherwise excessive: rather, society is “fundamentally spectaclist.” Within a fundamentally spectaclist society, the rise of power-serving fact-checkers must be understood as inevitable.
What is Spectacle?

“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation.” — Guy Debord

In Debord’s 1967 Society of the Spectacle and its shorter follow-up booklet, the 1988 Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, the philosopher posits that modern life is mediated through images, or representations of life, in a state — a spectacle — that has turned into nothing less than objective and material reality. Our current reality, a society of the spectacle, is one where the world has been turned “upside down” because life can no longer be lived directly but instead only through mere representations of life. Such an organization of appearances facilitates a backwards unreality where truth, when it makes a rare appearance, does so as “a moment of the false.”
The spectacle, which “presents itself as a vast inaccessible reality that can never be questioned,” exists to advance itself infinitely. As Debord says, its sole message is, “What appears is good; what is good appears.” Its manifestation in the world is a “visible negation of life — a negation that has taken on a visible form” which “keeps people in a state of unconsciousness as they pass through practical changes in their conditions of existence.”
The world this spectacle emerges in is one where the economy has subjugated society to its own needs. Having no use for anything but itself, and for advancing itself, the spectacle ignores the reality of practical and natural processes, like aging and rest, and tramples over humans’ need to connect in lieu of its own advancement.
A master of separation, it has recreated our society without community, and it has obstructed the ability to communicate in general. Such processes and their ramifications ultimately mean people cannot truly experience life for themselves: they have become spectators, bound to an impoverished state of unlife.
The Society of the Spectacle & Fact-Checking
As the spectacle advances its control, message and ultimately “unlife” over daily life, an obvious tool it uses is  mass and social media, which take up growing portions of the average person’s waking hours outside work. Further blurring reality, as Debord claims in Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, the spectacle’s undermining and destruction of history means “contemporary events themselves retreat into a remote and fabulous realm of unverifiable stories, uncheckable statistics, unlikely explanations and untenable reasoning.”
A corporatized media is a perfect medium for such a “fabulous” realm, where truth and reality alike are obscured beyond recognition. Amongst this backdrop of confusion, spectacle increasingly deprives people of physical reality, common historical reference points and community necessary to discuss or debate important political happenings and events. As a consequence, elite narratives permeate from their respective channels unchallenged, especially as dissenting voices find themselves shut out of corporatized, elite, and tech-dominated public discourse.

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