9

I've now seen several references to the The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center in the context of the Israeli/Hamas 2023 War to "buttress" claims of misdeeds by Hamas.

Now, far from me to defend Hamas. 10/7 attacks were terrorism, pure and simple, with hundreds of civilians slaughtered at close range, often under apparently atrocious conditions. These were not "collateral damage deaths".

But the Meir Amit center is clearly engaged in countering Hamas. While their information may or may not be correct (I was not particularly impressed reading the 2 cited articles), they certainly have a huge vested interest in stating news making Hamas look bad. News which may, with a very high degree of likelihood, very well be true: Hamas, again, is a terrorist organization.

However, I am sure we could also ensure a parade of citations from pro-Palestinians websites with all sorts of claims of bombed babies in Palestinian refugee camps. News which would also, with an equally high degree of likelihood, be true.

Personally, I would tend to discount both sources and look for more neutral ones when making references. And, at least, primarily refer to news sources. Not organizations with a particular goal. Or, for that matter, random Joes posting on Twitter.

Is this something that the community should generally expect, from answers and questions, that we try to use sources with a minimum threshold of neutrality? If so, should we be as diligent removing posts and comments on both sides of this unfortunate conflict (again, started by Hamas)?

9
  • I added the code of conduct tag as well because it has a section on misleading information.
    – JJJ Mod
    Nov 19, 2023 at 21:17
  • 1
    @JJJ I wouldn't necessarily say it's misleading information. But I would say it is very biased. Which isn't the same thing. Nov 19, 2023 at 21:23
  • 2
    I think what you're describing in the question gets quite close though. If a source is presenting something as fact when the available evidence doesn't support it then it's unsubstantiated (by definition). That's something the misleading information section disallows. It's hard to verify of course because we don't always know what evidence is available to them but not to us.
    – JJJ Mod
    Nov 19, 2023 at 21:55
  • 2
    Looks like a pretty obscure source. Their page is up for deletion from Wikipedia right now en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Anyhow there a line in there cited to WaPo "The organization has close ties with Israel's military leadership and maintains an office at the Israeli Defense Ministry." However it's from 2006, so who knows how actual that is. Nov 20, 2023 at 0:33
  • 2
    "...with a minimum threshold of neutrality..." If we decide for this we also have to define that minimal threshold and that will be PITA. Better to foster a general approach towards not trusting any single source of information and asking for multiple independent reports of the same issue unless the source is super credible. And label non-standard sources as such. Maybe have a blacklist of unusable information sources. But rather not define a minimal threshold. Nov 20, 2023 at 8:56
  • 1
    @NoDataDumpNoContribution Oh, I did not mean a formal minimal threshold. Just a general "you're not even trying. DV!" response to some posts. For one thing, I don't see that, at least in the context of the 2023 Gaza war, the treatment is very even handed. People come down like a ton of bricks on some of the low-quality pro-Palestine posts. Meanwhile, posts like "but they all like to die, civs too. see, it's in <another Israeli source>" get very limited adversarial treatment. Nov 20, 2023 at 16:28
  • It's as if people talking up the Russian side were being taken seriously quoting TASS (they're not). Even the pro-Ukraine lot usually knows better than to limit their more contentious claims to being supported by Ukrainian news releases. Nov 20, 2023 at 16:30
  • But people will always start quibbling, like look my source isn't so bad here is this half decent article from it and anyway this is just oppression by a tyrannic group of members here who downvote everything they don't like. Not my position, but maybe let's concentrate on what makes a good post, then say look we are concerned with quality. Nov 20, 2023 at 19:55
  • 1
    See also politics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3840/…
    – sfxedit
    Nov 23, 2023 at 6:22

5 Answers 5

3

I suggest the following:

  • If the source isn't a mainstream media or a reputed institute, and suspect, ask the author to inform the reader about the potential bias. (For example, instead of "XYZ think tank says ...", write "XYZ think tank, run by this political party / government, says ... ").

  • If a clearly better and more neutral source exists, recommend replacing the biased source with it.

Pros of this approach:

  1. Mods / editors are less likely to introduce their own bias to the Q&A (or face such complaints).

  2. Reduces the workload of mods / editors in trying to determine how to deal with a biased source or how to replace it without changing the content or offending the author.

  3. Being transparent increases the readers faith as it shows that we respect and trust them to use their own judgement.

Cons:

  1. Some low quality content (propaganda) is likely to creep in.
14
  • 2
    Great suggestion! This would be a big improvement for the quality of the answers on this site for sources where the bias is not obvious from the source name. Nov 26, 2023 at 14:48
  • 2
    -1 - New York Times is mainstream media and isn't officially run by any government. But it toes Democratoc Party line 99% of the time by virtue of ideological institutional capture, same as with a vast majority of legacy mainstream media. Also, many left leaning sources explicitly claim to be "neutral" or "bipartisan", but if you read the wording and see the things they choose to include/omit, the bias shows
    – user4012
    Nov 26, 2023 at 19:05
  • 2
    @user4012 By and large, mainstream media (and I include even Fox in it) do a decent job to inform the public about issues of public concern. That each one of them adds a "bias" to it doesn't matter because by now everyone is either aware of the "bias" (and thus is attracted or repelled to it due to this), or there will always be someone in the internet to point it out. So if someone doesn't like an answer here which cites NYT, they can write an answer here with Fox. And if my suggestion is accepted, both won't have to worry that their NYT or Fox source would be removed by the mods / editors
    – sfxedit
    Nov 26, 2023 at 21:14
  • 1
    @user4012 The reason I say that mainstream media (print media, TV news, radios etc.) should be allowed unrestricted, whatever be their bias, is because these have already been 'vetted' by their respective government and are required to be run by a professional unit (a team of qualified editors and journalists) compared to some blog or social media site.
    – sfxedit
    Nov 26, 2023 at 21:25
  • @sfxedit - yeah, Pravda and Izvestiya also were vetted by their govrernment and were required to be run by a "a team of qualified editors and journalists". The fact that they printed whatever fits their ideology ONLY, doesn't change that. I don't see ANY difference between "Oh there's no Holodomor" NYT and a random blog, other than the blog isn't pretending to be "neutral" when it isn't
    – user4012
    Nov 27, 2023 at 14:40
  • @user4012 You are free to quote NYT or Fox. You are free to upvote or downvote. Simply because, as I have already pointed out (and you are too) it isn't about neutrality - there's the fact and then there's the objective reasoning based on these facts. The "bias" may appear in the latter. The mainstream media does a reasonable job of collecting facts and reporting it (with or without "bias"). It's their job, and it requires a qualification in this field (Journalism) to become a professional. That matters, however much you'd like to disregard it. There's even regulations and laws for them.
    – sfxedit
    Nov 27, 2023 at 17:36
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    @user4012 We just want verifiable facts in answers. It doesn't matter whether it comes from NYT or Fox. Po.SE offers "neutrality" by allowing you to post an answer and sharing your own "bias". What is the point in me yelling Fox is bad and you yelling NYT is bad when both of them have substantial consumers, in a democracy? A fox reader can downvote an NYT sourced answer, and vice versa. How can you prevent that? The system is imperfect because it expects rationality from the public which isn't realistic. Anyway, If you think there is a better way or system to do this, please share it.
    – sfxedit
    Nov 27, 2023 at 17:46
  • @sfxedit - yeah, you are claiming that NYT as a source makes the fact "verifyable" for some magical reason, compared to a blog. I disagree
    – user4012
    Nov 28, 2023 at 14:49
  • @user4012 Your suggestion is is just to blindly allow any source as reference, and let the "people decide" online (upvote / downvote). I am pointing out to you that the people have already decided - these mainstream media already exist in a democratic society. If the "people" didn't want them, they wouldn't be patronised by them and / or would be prosecuted / sued / banned by the government by now. Note also that this doesn't mean we can't cite experts from books or their blogs.
    – sfxedit
    Nov 28, 2023 at 16:25
  • @sfxedit - sorry, that's ridiculously naive. By your measure, Alex Jones is perfectly fine as a source as people patronize him. So were Pravda and Izvestiya. So's Iran New Agency. So's Hamas's content, like it or not. Popularity doesn't mean accuracy, it just means you publish what sufficiently big group of people likes
    – user4012
    Nov 29, 2023 at 17:28
  • @user4012 As I said, you are well aware of all the biases, and that is why it is fine. There's absolutely nothing wrong in quoting Iran News Agency, when the subject is about Iran, or some Hamas sympathetic media when the subject deals with Palestinians in Gaza. If the facts cited in these sources are not factual, anyone can point that out citing other sources and the Q or A will either be downvoted or deleted. Again, what alternate and better suggestion are you offering?
    – sfxedit
    Nov 29, 2023 at 19:16
  • @sfxedit "By and large, mainstream media (and I include even Fox in it) do a decent job to inform the public about issues of public concern." - I have lost count of the times that right-wingers I know on the Internet have tipped me off to some story that makes left-wing causes look bad, via some really egregiously right-wing looking source that I know my "progressive" friends would reject out of hand; I could clearly verify the story based on the evidence presented and further digging; yet I would come up completely empty-handed looking for reporting of the story in left-wing outlets. Dec 15, 2023 at 14:39
  • @KarlKnechtel I partly agree with you. As Seymour Hersh noted, none of his previous employers were willing to publish his story that the US blew up the NS pipeline, without him revealing his source. Hersch didn't trust them to not leak it. What's even more interesting to me is how the flow of news is now controlled - Hersh's article was dubbed as fake news by a govt. agency and FB than reported it as fake to its users.
    – sfxedit
    Dec 15, 2023 at 15:06
  • @KarlKnechtel And everywhere, including in India and US mainstream media are increasingly parroting government viewpoints instead of questioning them. So yes, things are not all great with journalism today. But the main stream media is still the only reliable option to the other alternatives. Do we really want to quote influencers with no training in journalism? Or online sources just because they are popular with one particular segment of society? I don't think that's a good way to go about this.
    – sfxedit
    Dec 15, 2023 at 15:17
3

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

Upton Sinclair

I don't think we need lists of allowed/prohibited sources, but people posting answers and voting on them may want to take the motivations of the groups making claims when using them as sources. We won't get perfectly neutral sources easily, but at least we can be cognizant of their biases when using them.

Ask yourself if the quotes below really tell you anything:
  • The ACLU states that Guantanamo is unconstitutional.

  • The Department of Justice rules that Guantanamo is constitutional.

How about if you switch to :
  • The ACLU admits Guantanamo is not unconstitutional and wants the laws changed.

  • The Department of Justice admits shortcomings in Guantanamo's operations

Basically, in the first instance, you have 2 groups who will, almost by definition, hold a certain position. To a large extent, they will not publish anything deviating from it unless they have a very good reason.

Using them as sources would not enhance your answer much.

Likewise, if you want to make a case that Russia is deporting Ukrainian children, you won't convince too many doubters by quoting Zelensky.

However, you can quote TASS admitting just that. Which is an example of the second usage of partisan sources - citing them admitting uncomfortable facts.

Are you sourcing an easily verifiable fact? An interpretation? Is it controversial?

Now, something also to take into account is what the reference is meant to corroborate. Is it a viewpoint/opinion? Or a fact that is verifiable independently? How controversial is it?

Quoting Zelensky stating that Russia's invasion started on Feb 22nd, 2022 is quoting someone with a large bias in the subject. But it is also an eminently verifiable fact. No need to go overboard hunting for the perfectly neutral source.

If you want to look into Afghanistan civilian deaths during the US mission, the Pentagon may not be the best source. If you instead want to know how many US troops were deployed there year by year, the Pentagon is the place to go.

2

Another suggestion: use Vote to Delete more often on material that's plain disinfo like fake quotes and the like.

It's more complicated when it comes to "spin" articles that are not plain fakes but "generously" interpret something. But even some answers like that were deleted, on more sensitive subjects.

2

Personally, I would tend to discount both sources and look for more neutral ones when making references. And, at least, primarily refer to news sources. Not organizations with a particular goal. Or, for that matter, random Joes posting on Twitter.

No free lunch, no neutral source
I disagree with this approach. I believe that there are no unbiased sources, since any information is collected, filtered, and presented by people and organizations (made of people) which have conscious and unconscious bias. (In this sense, propaganda is simply conscious and deliberate bias.)

Cross-checking
In this sense, looking for a neutral source is a pointless endeavor. The way to determine the truth is by cross-checking several sources, preferably with known different political orientation. Even the sources generally considered as biased, like Russia Today or Al Jazeera may contain hints or seeds to events/facts, omitted elsewhere - these can be than followed with a pointed search for more information.

Official sources
In some cases the truth is rather easy to establish and check, e.f., using official sources. Thus, one should never trust the description of the position of this or that politician by journalists/commentators - it is better to quote verbatim their words on a specific issue, which are typically available via governments web-sites and the like.

Collective language
Another common problem is using collective terms like Russia/Russians, Israel, Gaza, etc. to refer to whole groups of population, which are likely to have different opinions, which are not officially expressed. In other words, these claims are technically never truthful.

Average Joes
I think these deserve less trust than mainstream sources. Their information is always presented as a smoking gun, but it is a single photo/video/witness account, taken from a specific point of view. It cannot replace collection and systematization of information obtained from multiple sources - which is what one typically obtains from serious media outlets or experienced commentators.

It is worth mentioning here the Rashomon effect - people observing the same events, but focusing on completely different aspects of them, and presenting similarly contradictory accounts.

3
  • +1 I agree. The only issue with this approach is (as someone once complained on one of my post) is that "answers will be written like wikipedia pages, and SEs are supposed to be better, and written by subject experts" ... It's a valid point too.
    – sfxedit
    Dec 1, 2023 at 1:37
  • Some of these point are valid, but keep in mind that questions and answers aren't the same thing. There's even a site here, Skeptics, where the source/quote of the question is generally from untrustworthy sources. And even on Politics, I see no reason not to ask questions based on newspaper reports. If the claims turn out to be false, that's what a frame challenge answer is for. Yea, there's argument to be made that asking Qs based on Alex Jones quotes is kinda pointless, but for MSM claims, I think they're a valid starting point for a question. Dec 1, 2023 at 2:24
  • Great answer. "...like Russia Today or Al Jazeera may contain hints or seeds to events/facts, omitted elsewhere..." Agreed, but the rate isn't high and this question basically asks where it does more harm than good presenting these sources. You would have to check and double check for additional hints while not getting distracted from additional noise. The effort to check all these alternatives might be comparably large for the benefit that might be very low. At some point everyone has to stop searching. Dec 1, 2023 at 8:48
1

I don't have a full answer (nor do I care to make one), but I'd like to point a VERY relevant thing here: there's a marked difference between Israeli news sources (biased or not) and Palestinian.

  • The former (pro-Israel, especially pro-Netaniahu or anything smacking of right wing-ish or nationalistic), don't exist in a vacuum - they exist in a democratic environment, with a vast wealth of independent media which is largely hostile (both domestic and especially foreign). In other words, any claim that is outright false, WILL be widely dissected and widely criticized as contradicting facts, by people with a vested interest in doing so, both commercial AND ideological.

  • The latter (pro-Hamas), usually relies on the word of a tyrannical military organization which has zero independent domestic media, zero domestic political opposition (OK, Islamic Jihad exists, but that's irrelevant in this context), and in international media environment - especially outside USA - generally favourable coverage, both in theory, and as we saw in practice - Hamas's outight lie when their own missile hit the hospital was widely parroted by nearly every media organizaion without ever bothering to fact check, and STILL hasn't been contradicted.

In other words, there are reasons to believe that if the former source posts something inaccurate, it is fairly easy to find disproving/contradicting info. The latter source, it is not the case.

For less politically charged analogy, think about an article from peer reviewed journal, and an article from predatory paywalled self-publish journal. Which was is more likely to be easier to ascertain truth/correctness of?

7
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica - Free press and democracy makes for ability to see if the info is bad because there is always the source posting debunking info. Especially when info is from "more right wing". since the media (especially if you include social media) is nearly hegemonically controlled by left wing, but the principle in general stands on both sides. As I said, the point isn't that the info is from a reliable source, but that there are OTHER sources "of similar class of reliability" that would have debunked the info if it was debunkable, as they have a vested interest to do so.
    – user4012
    Nov 22, 2023 at 15:15
  • TL;DR: there are checks and balances in the overall ecosystem
    – user4012
    Nov 22, 2023 at 15:18
  • 3
    Nothing in the Western fringe media or info space gives me your, IMHO, misplaced belief that "debunking" actually solves things as much as you claim. See also "Trump's election was stolen!". How many times was that debunked? And that's before intentional spin, by non-fringe actors (which is more relevant to this Q). For example, reading Afghanistan Papers. Apparently, while Rumsfeld & Bush were trumpeting "wins" in Afg., their generals were privately already sounding the alarm in 2003-04. So, yes, partisan & useless. Nov 22, 2023 at 18:05
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    It's laughable that you claim that pro-Netanyahu or right-wing sources are more "reliable" because they exist in a "democratic" environment. Isn't this the same Netanyahu that undemocratically tried to assume power over the Israeli judiciary and nearly started a civil war in Israel? This is just typical bullshit to undermine the mainstream media that do a decent job even if they falter sometime. Second, it's not pro-Hamas, but pro-Palestine, even if the source may be Hamas (who are not a monolith entity and can be anyone from an educated bureaucrat to an elected official to a social worker).
    – sfxedit
    Nov 22, 2023 at 19:37
  • 1
    This is a bit of a red herring. That other/better/more-neutral sources exist in a democratic country is no reason to use Alex Jones etc. as a source. It's rather irrelevant if the sources contradicting are in the same or in other country. You're making an ecological fallacy, basically. It's more material when we're talking about state outlets, e.g. if VoA is contradicting some DPRK propaganda. Nov 26, 2023 at 6:00
  • 1
    FWTW, I should point out that some editors here even objected to sources like VoA, calling them 'psy ops' etc. Nov 26, 2023 at 6:35
  • VoA is kinda special @Fizz, because unlike 99% of other Western media sources it is - as far as I know - actually funded by US government and executes its policies. But unlike media in Russia etc..., that's a small <1% exception in a sea of largerly government-independent media. Which is my point - VoA as a source is no more OK than DPRK state newspaper BUT, any claim in VoA is easy to cross-check, so absence of contradictory claims IS actually a good basis to assume the claim may be accurate even if source is iffy. The same is impossible to say about DPRK affiliated claim
    – user4012
    Nov 26, 2023 at 19:02

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