Why did we need a newspaper dedicated to vaping, made by vapers for vapers?
A news item is a type of journalistic communication that narrates structured units of information in the most objective way possible. It is usually the result of gathering data from one or more sources and with different points of view, and the usual thing is to turn to those who saw a fact, heard it, read it, or have investigated it. This type of text, for example, can be found in our ‘Politics’ and ‘Science’ categories.
Although it is not the only type of journalistic narrative, for the vast majority of readers what appears in a newspaper is news. And one of its best known (and desired) qualifiers is that of ‘impartiality’. But this may be a pipe dream. In a supposedly objective and neutral narrative, there is a choice of words and a chain of ideas that result from concepts and judgments. Narratives are the result of choices and rejections, they impose a perspective and are usually full of angles and interpretations that are often imperceptible to most readers.
The fundamental principle that should govern journalism is a commitment to the fact. You must follow the primer of objectivity and deliver the message. But if possible and relevant, you should also go beyond the news, dig deeper and present divergent approaches. Journalism must sow questions, provoke questioning and reflection based on the message.
In the message, you can defend a point of view, an idea instead of another. However, the reader should not be left in doubt about the principles and values that are defended. The specialized press has this advantage over the mass media; you do not need to hide your vocation, your passion. It is not that you are authorized to skew or manipulate information, but you are willing to show your confidence in an argument and to make your perspective public.
Of course, for the vast majority of people, it can be difficult to remove premises, revise concepts, and give new arguments a chance, as well as running the healthy risk of changing your mind. It is natural and comfortable to pay more attention to what confirms or agrees with our views. However, in controversial and complex situations, even the specialized press must submit to the virtue of doubt. Although it explicitly defends a set of values, it must constantly reflect and examine its sources.
The perception of the news: a sentence that is written in the plural
There are different ways to receive and interpret the news. The world of information is complex and the effect of hostile media is illustrative in this regard. It is a theory that began to be studied in the 1960s, in the field of mass communication, and that sought to explain how two individuals can have a completely different perception of the same news. In situations like this, individuals with opposing opinions might consider the same information unfavorable for their ideas.
This indicates that it is possible to make sense of the same news or message in completely different ways, even the opposite. And the above explains why, in a context of polarization, the same news item may be defending a point of view for reader A and another completely antagonistic for reader B.
It seems that the perception that is imposed is the most widespread, the one that is culturally and ideologically absorbed. In these first decades of the 21st century, information from various sources has circulated, such as:
– The alternative, specialized or niche press;
– The traditional press in crisis, which has had to compete with social networks;
– The breaking news of, precisely, social networks, and
– Other more diverse, fast, and subtle forms of information dissemination, such as WhatsApp chains.
In this context, the role of the specialized press is to provide the reader with the possibility of accessing sources of information filtered and grouped by quality. In this way, you will favor your “informational ecosystem” and have an alternative to the indigestible amount of biased or irrelevant information circulating everywhere.
Fake news and the spread of doubt
Donald Trump said he created the expression fake news during the 2016 presidential campaign. And his claim is also fake. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term fake news has been used since the 19th century. Although ‘adapting’ a story and keeping it from the truth for social, economic, or political purposes is an even older phenomenon.
In any case, fake news has indeed become very popular in recent years. They have starred in various recent events in many parts of the world. Such is the case of Brexit and the presidential campaigns of Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Donald Trump in the United States.
As early as 1921, the French historian March Bloch said that fake news needed a favorable ecosystem to survive, and this included people willing to believe it. Nowadays we have someone who amplifies them, massifies them, and makes them seem true. It is about the masses on social networks, who have taken advantage of the discredit of the traditional press and have been fundamental for the circulation of fake news.
Now companies are specializing in deception and data manipulation (see Cambridge Analytica). Real armies of robots and fake profiles also circulate on the networks, as well as a multitude of transvestite pages on the Internet. The methods of finding the weak point of the reader to instill ideas or determine their thoughts are evolving and are too subtle and varied to be discovered by companies that are dedicated to checking the veracity of suspicious news.
A new version of the traditional fake news, operating under the sign of conviction, propagates doubt seems to have excelled and gained traction. This is especially true when we talk about the resources that social networks provide us, which is an environment of “infoxication” (the intoxicating amount of information) to which we are all subjected.
Although evolution is perceived, the spread of doubt is not new and does not differ much from traditional fake news. In both cases, traditional distribution channels and large volumes of information are used. They are spread through news agencies, press consultancies, and the like, many even naively responsible. News is disseminated that carries contradictory information and data, or that denies some assumption or previous news.
In general, this is done under the signature of great authority and the message is intended to resonate with the beliefs of the majority of the readers, not because the message is an end in itself, but to build a structure of “disbeliefs”. That is, the objective is not to communicate false news, but to reinforce or create ideas that destroy some other news that could be credible or that is simply not in the interest of the dominant groups. This mechanism has been widely used by deniers, such as anti-vaccines, climate change deniers, or anti-vaping prohibitionists.
The Stanford case and the construction of disbelief
Fake news and the spread of doubt also occur in scientific debate. The case of Professor Stanton Glantz of the University of California is paradigmatic. But in perfect timing, when the world had already been in a pandemic for months, the press around the world spread the news that a study by Stanford and California universities “presented evidence” that consumers of electronic cigarettes were much more at risk contracting COVID-19.
The research has analyzed an open survey made of 4,351 people between the ages of 13 and 24 distributed in 50 states of the United States. These people answered if they had vaped, if they had tested positive for the new Coronavirus or if they had had COVID symptoms in the last 30 days. According to the researchers, compared to the young people who did not use the electronic cigarette, the group that vaped was up to seven times more likely to become infected. And the risk would be even greater when vaping liquids with nicotine.
The core of the message is the same as the one released by the Daily Mail in September 2012. A quick Google search finds the words “vaping”, “damage” and “lungs” thousands of times in the same sentence (close to 2,260,000 results).
The words of the researcher responsible for the study, Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, have been translated into hundreds of languages and have found an echo in renowned news portals and even in groups of family members on WhatsApp. According to her, “Teens and young adults need to know that if you use e-cigarettes, you are likely at immediate risk of contracting COVID-19 because you are damaging your lungs.” That is the working phrase, the one that leads and encloses the message. In most of the media, the news stays here.
Of course, there was a great demonstration on social networks. Even here on Vaping Today, we’ve had a record number of views on the article on the subject. And since the publication of the study in the Journal of Adolescent Research, the outcry from advocates and users of vaping, which was expected by all, did not take many hours to arrive.
The vast majority of ex-smokers who have switched to vaping have experienced a substantial improvement in their health. This is much more due to quitting tobacco than to the effects of the e-cigarette, of course. But that surprising improvement in their quality of life, coupled with being able to continue consuming nicotine, is what creates passion in most users. And it is clear that the authors of the article, the anti-vaping funders, the prohibitionist popularizers, the editors of the magazine that published the study, and the heads of the news agencies that spread it knew that there was going to be a reasonable reaction of protest on social networks.
We must ask ourselves if the natural and necessary response of activists and consumers is not expected to spread disinformation, since it somehow ends up feeding the mechanism. This occurs, for example, when the protest retweet ends up helping to spread misinformation. That can be a cruel epiphany. In any case, a possible answer to this question requires a bit of digression and, above all, reflection.
In Stanford’s case, the motivation and message are no different from so many other cases, such as EVALI and the popcorn lungs. On the contrary, it is a complement, a continuation, a variation. The main communication resources to maintain the anti-vaping position are classic and even predictable. Above all, the use of the argument of those who have more authority, fame, and notoriety in front of the public is evident. Also of those who have more economic power to spread information. The objective is not to disseminate scientific research, but to give one more dose as an ideological complement to the demonization already implanted previously in many other studies. It is reinforcement at the right time to a belief system that has already been working. Thus the message works without having to present plausible arguments and serves its purpose.
In this specific case, the attack is also directed at other scientists and activists. Among its objectives could be to react to the incipient but promising hypothesis of the protective role of nicotine against the new Coronavirus and the worsening of its disease. There have been indications that support this hypothesis since the beginning of the pandemic and, therefore, it has been reported by different scientists in different parts of the world.
We see the world as we are
Is the race for truth won by those who are more renowned, get the most funding, and get the most clicks? There is no single recipe to combat economic or ideological interests in communication. There are escape spaces, small oases, and insular spaces that are not always easily accessible or cannot last.
Vaping Today was born to be that space of confluence and comfort, and to be the antithesis of these traditional means of distribution that continue to be a vehicle that takes its readers with closed windows, driving their belief systems towards the explosion of trends in the social networks. Our work is supported by the absolute conviction in the benefits of the harm reduction paradigm, in human rights, and the right to self-determination to health.
Vaping Today is one of those spaces whose main objective is to make journalism committed to the truth, even if it is confusing, difficult to understand, or describe. We are not afraid to make mistakes or have weaknesses because first is the commitment to our readers. We are not impartial because we are passionate. Like our readers, we are a team of ex-smokers who have been amazed, delved into, and delved into the universe of this tobacco harm reduction product technology that has improved the lives of so many millions of people around the world. Our leitmotif is, with conviction and reason, the commitment to the truth.
Why did we need a newspaper dedicated to vaping, made by vapers for vapers? For our readers and our values. As Anaïs Nin said: “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are ”.
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