The largest U.S. newspaper publisher is experimenting with Facebook’s virtual reality headset to allow readers to experience a news story in a 3D immersive environment, but one expert warns the technology could lead to “virtual propaganda” which misleads viewers.
Gannett Company, which owns numerous newspapers including USA Today, used the Oculus Rift headset to create a virtual reality presentation of an Iowa farm as part of a special report on agriculture for the Des Moines Register.
Headset viewers could experience various farm activities from their own point-of-view, including children tending to livestock and farmers repairing a tractor.
“This is the way we, as journalists, are going to need to communicate to the Minecraft generation,” Gannett’s Digital Vice President Mitch Gelman told the Poynter Institute, referring to the popular first-person sandbox game which gives players creative control of their environment.
He added that the experiment is targeted at teenagers and young adults “who essentially are not picking up a newspaper from their front porch or sitting down in front of Brian Williams.”
Of course, considering how the mainstream media routinely endorses the false narratives of the government without question, virtual reality news reporting could easily lead to distorted versions of world events.
“Imagine if the government were trying to convince the world that Ferguson was just fine,” Geoffrey Long, the Technical Director and a Research Fellow at USC’s Annenberg Innovation Lab, said to the Poynter Institute. “There’s potential for abuse of ‘virtual propaganda.’”
The technology would have certainly helped CNN, which initially denied reports that tear gas was used during protests in Ferguson, Mo., last month.
“Police in Ferguson tell CNN that smoke, not tear gas, was fired at protestors breaking curfew,” CNN reported, never bothering to challenge the police on this claim.
In reality, Ferguson was littered with tear gas canisters shot at not only protestors but also press covering the event.
Virtual reality journalism would give the mainstream media even more creative control of the narrative by deciding what pieces of a story – and whose point of view – viewers emphasize with, and because the viewers feel more “involved” in the story than they would by simply watching it on TV, the technology could be more effective at deceiving the public than past forms of mass communication.
“Control of thought is more important for governments that are free and popular than for despotic and military states,” political commentator Noam Chomsky wrote. “The logic is straightforward: a despotic state can control its domestic enemies by force, but as the state loses this weapon, other devices are required to prevent the ignorant masses from interfering with public affairs, which are none of their business… the public are to be observers, not participants, consumers of ideology as well as products.”