Thursday, April 22

A Steal Might Actually Be a Raw Deal

One thing to ask is why companies are selling some bundles but not others.

Apple pundits have been talking for years about the possibility of paying a single monthly price for an iPhone, maybe an add-on product like AirPods headphones, an AppleCare warranty and some digital subscriptions.

This has not happened (yet) even as Apple starts to try every other conceivable bundle. That might be because it costs Apple almost nothing to toss in some video subscriptions, but the company could take a real hit by discounting its physical products.

The challenge for Netflix, Amazon, Apple and the rest is figuring out what collections of products we love — and at what price — and which we’ll grow to hate. There is a fine line between feeling like we’re getting a steal, and feeling like we’re getting ripped off. The cable TV bosses didn’t think that we would resent their bundles, until we did.

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You should read my colleagues’ great article that traced how an observable fact from protests in Portland, Ore. — a few people burned one or possibly two Bibles — became a false narrative that mass numbers of people burned a stack of Bibles and American flags.

My colleagues wrote that the original incident was exaggerated by a Russia-backed news organization, spread on Twitter by someone who didn’t confirm it, and picked up online by news outlets, politicians and commentators who already believed that the protests (and liberals) were out of control.

My question from this — and from my colleague Kevin Roose’s reporting on the QAnon conspiracy — is whether Americans are so divided that we don’t trust anything — and conversely aren’t willing to disbelieve anything. Matthew Rosenberg, one of the reporters on the Portland story, gave me a (discouraging) answer:

Absolutely, and I think we’ve been seeing this phenomenon unfold over years. It’s why nonsense like birtherism or QAnon can take hold. I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t treat what they hear from news organizations or authorities with skepticism. But maybe don’t be so quick to believe that a pricing glitch on Wayfair is evidence of children being trafficked.

We spend a lot of time worrying about interference from Russia, China or Iran. But disinformation needs to have a receptive audience to work. If Americans weren’t so divided — if most political arguments were over a shared set of facts, not wildly conflicting worldviews — it would be hard for a foreign power to meddle.

The Portland Bible burnings illustrate the problem. Sure, Russian state-backed media flagged what was going on and blew it out of proportion. But it was Americans who made it an issue, and used it to score political points. Ultimately, it is us doing this to ourselves.

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