Since last year’s presidential campaign in the US and Donald Trump’s election victory, the debate around (social) media and fake news or false information has kept the Internet busy. But although it’s complicated and exhausting to research what we can trust, its more important than ever to be able to recognize, understand, and deconstruct strategies used to manipulate public opinion. Only recently the independent right-wing opinion platform Breitbart announced the plans to open a German desk this year when the federal elections are taking place.
Artist and researcher Marloes de Valk investigated on those methods starting with events in the Eighties, drawing parallels to today’s media landscape. In her essay written for Web Residencies No.1 (2017) by Solitude & ZKM on the topic »Blowing the Whistle, Questioning Evidence«, she shows: propaganda has become more direct, yet the patterns remain the same. In this interview she talks about the tricky world of propaganda, fake news, and leaked documents and also how a dark-humored art game designed for the emblematic 1985 NES video game console may help us to navigate through it.
»My role as an artist is one of critical reflection, trying to bridge the gap between everyday experiences and developments in society. Developments such as: the increasing invasion of privacy along with people’s need to feel a part of social groups, the increased speed at which products are produced and thrown away and the way people now define themselves through the consumption of goods, the literally suffocating grip of the oil industry on governments and the powerlessness people feel in the face of climate change…«
Clara Herrmann: For your web residency, you wrote an essay that maps existing research on strategies used to manipulate public opinion, focusing on events taking place in the Eighties. Why this decade and what are the events you are focusing on?
Marloes de Valk: I focused on the Eighties because it was a decade in which many of the problems we face today were becoming painfully apparent. The collateral damage of industrial capitalism became visible at the same time as the rise of neoliberalism – the strong belief that an unregulated market will solve all problems –, while ignoring the fact that no financial incentive was present to trigger this market driven problem solving. Scientists realized acid rain was caused by the burning of coal, that the ozone layer was thinning because of CFC’s, that the climate was changing, and that this was caused by the burning of fossil fuels… The way that governments, and the industries that were negatively impacting the environment, responded to those concerns set us on a course that we are still on today – one of eternal delay. There were successful measures taken to deal with CFC’s and acid rain, but it took much longer than necessary due to very efficient campaigns funded by industry to cast doubt on the severity and causes of those problems. This is still true for global warming.