Updated: February 12, 2018
Welcome! We shall debate a hot potato today. I am hearing this term "fake news" more and more recently, and for the ordinary homo sapiens out there, it has become synonymous with anything they do not like or agree. Like any pointless trend or fashion, it grips the low-IQ masses with frenzy. But that's only one half of the story.
The more important part is - how is this thing going to affect our lives in the coming years and decades? This has become relevant, especially since we have the chivalrous brigades of Internet morality working hard to make sure people receive filtered information that ought not to upset, challenge or change the masses. But there's another angle. Let us indeed debate some more.
The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!
Of course, you must have heard. The Cyrillic Hax0rz have infiltrated the social media ads (gasp). Apparently, go figure, "the Russians" made use of the ad marketing platform available (on Facebook), which is indeed global, effective, and does not discriminate between dollar and ruble (and why should it, business is business). This caused quite a bit of furor in the (mostly) Western media, because the notion of having a non-Western entity using the same platform to advance its needs seems shocking.
It also sets a precedent - apart from tasting one's own medicine kind of thing - it allows ANY WHICH unsanctioned group of people with sufficient financial capital (i.e. not the owners of said social media) to influence the feeble minds of the masses using the aforementioned social media, which at the moment is the most prolific and pervasive form of communication in the world, especially among people with IQ < 100.
Because of this affair, there's an erosion of trust in the foundation of social media (oh, the irony). This caused Mark Zuckerberg to be photographed biting his lower lip, and we all know from West Coast Marketing Relations 101 that this is a sign of emotional seriousness and regret.
But that on its own is not a big thing. Facebook - and any other company - has a right to decide what and who may use their services, especially if that can affect their bottom line. They can choose whether to host and promote certain content.
Of course, as with anything big and supposedly shocking, the public reaction is weird. Instead of blaming stupid people for believing crap (introspection is a vital piece of human intelligence), they blame Facebook. What. For that matter, let's blame all and every technology because idiots may misuse it. Anyway, what matters is that the Facegate has set off a chain reaction of so-called fake news.
Waiter, there's Communism in my ads!
The phrase fake news is - fake. First, it implies that the vast amounts of verbal, text and image diarrhea out there actually classifies as news. Technically, yes, any piece of new information is news, but then every new photon hitting your eye is also news, except your brain will trick you into associations and memory. The word "news" hails back to the olden era, when communications technologies were limited, and you really needed a printed paper magazine, or radio, or perhaps TV, to inform you on what's happening out there in the world. Today, anyone with the Internet connection and a camera can be a source of information.
But that's it. Not everyone is a trained, reputable or even reliable source of "news". Being a journalist has legal definitions - you're immune from certain legal clauses, like disclosure and such, and also, more importantly, you have a badge that reads JOURNALIST. And you also have a paying job and a reputation to take care of. This does not mean you should trust the established media, far from it, but they at least have a modicum of accountability (to some authority somewhere) as opposed to any Youtube blogger with a thirst for fame, or any random attention seeker elsewhere.
So the fact you read something - and it turns out to be inaccurate (fake), it does not make it news. Merely noise in the pool of crap called the Internet. The word fake has connotations, though. And implications. MORAL implications.
The supposed "meddling" of the "Russian" hax0rs in "American" affairs via social media - just read that sentence again to realize how absurdly ridiculous it sounds - is a gift to the social media giants. The West has always been distrustful of Russians, and the five decades of Cold War still ripple deep in the subconscious. Russia as a country/nation resonates on a primal level with the Western (mostly English speaking audience), and there's nothing as frightening as the idea of "the Reds" subverting your mind.
The fear and the indignation only help fuel the cause. Then, there's the matter of trust, as I've mentioned earlier. People are like sponges, they absorb whatever they hear or see without any critical thinking, judgment or doubt. Up till now, social media was a heaven of entertainment and whatnot for the clueless masses. But now there's a new factor: The Russians (cue in Bonnie M's Rasputin). Imagine the ordinary IQ85 person seeing an ad and thinking: "Am I going to get infected by Communism from that or what?"
This makes people wary - for all the wrong reasons of course, not because they shouldn't believe the bullshit they see everywhere, but because they might suddenly develop a strong yearning for communal ownership of property - and this affects how people engage and interact with social media and/or the ads. This is the lifeblood of consumerism, in particular on social media. And now it's being threatened. By its own model.
Make people feel sheltered
The social media giants need a solution. The real way is to educate people, but this takes decades. The easier way is to declare war on "fake news" - and start filtering out information so that the masses feel cozy and do not get upset. The ultimate goal is to have the social media users accept everything they are served at face value, no questions asked, no doubts raised. That's the Utopia.
This means sidelining any source of doubt that could challenge the "desired" lines of thoughts - think popular topics that help increase engagement with social media and, in turn, profit. And this is exactly what is slowly happening. A new kind of morality is dawning, and it is governed by private companies. To make it even more interesting, the social media giants literally control the information. If say Google and Facebook decide you should not exist on their platforms (for whatever reason), you will almost literally vanish from the Internet.
There's no actual legal framework here, no constitution, no codified justice - only a sense of what's right and wrong as defined by the social media owners. And when you take into consideration that this new age compass probably points in the direction of the Silicon Valley, things do not look so bright.
I mentioned some of this in my censorship article. Just think concepts like Baby Boomer/Generation X and then try to apply them worldwide. It does not work. Language and culture constructs, amirite. Once you step outside the boundaries of English ('tis a fine language, but still), the would-be expected norms break down. Even nuances of political correctness and bias cannot be globally applied, because different cultures use them in different ways. In fact, the attempt to normalize the world based on the narrow-minded and sheltered approach of the Morality Brigades is in itself a higher form of ignorance and intolerance. It's a paradox really.
Fifty years from now ...
It's very likely the war of fake news will succeed. What it will do is remove any political or ideological voice that does not align to the "party line". The idiots of today and tomorrow will grow up in an environment that does not foster debate. It's all touchy-feely bullshit, whereas humanity needs challenge and argument to stimulate innovation. Diversity of thought as opposed to whatever biological traits/labels seem popular.
This will affect people in the West (especially English speaking countries) most of all. Being the First World, Western nations are long distanced from real existential threats. They all have clean running water, good sanitation, functioning legal and medical systems, a sense of public safety, ample supply of food, and such. Such luxuries allow for a freedom of thought - but in turn, they lead to a sense of emptiness and boredom. Which is why activism is such a trend today. For instance, saving the planet. One might argue that we should probably make sure all seven billion of people have food, water and vaccines before we start thinking about whether our toilet paper is recycled or if certain chocolate brands are bad (don't eat, stop protesting). But the emptiness and boredom are so deep, they have become a modern religion.
The "easy" life that people in the West have (compared to the rest of the world) means that people in these countries have a reduced sense of survival needs. It's a good thing, a modern blessing, but it's also a double-edged sword, because it reduces a person's need to become better, smarter, more successful. Humans are lazy things - everything in nature tries to minimize their state of energy - so when you don't need to fight to make a living, you sit down and watch reality TV and engorge on fat food, but then, when the guilt needle trips the sensor every so often, you find a way to protest online somewhere that there should be less fat in food or something.
The "easy" life means less critical thinking - the foundation of intelligence and success. If anything, social media needs more "meddling" so that it stimulates the brain and make people THINK and DOUBT the information they get. More, not less. Alas, this is counterproductive to the financial gains of the social media giants. Smart people are less likely to buy into any which new fad/trend, less likely to believe "10 steps to ..." or "meet singles in your area" nonsense, less likely to be pushed to action by popular guilt.
In fifty years, if the fake news bullshit is allowed to prevail, you will have uneducated masses drinking in whatever they get from their gadgets without an ounce of doubt, ever. They will never have known that their freedom of thought has been eroded, taken away. In a way, this is a higher form of fascism. The fact it drives a hybrid and eats regurgitated beans produced on a wind farm powered by polar bears changes nothing.
If in doubt ... good!
Now, there's a remote chance you might be reading this article and wondering: Wait, am I the victim of my own ignorance? In fact, this is a question that EVERYONE should be asking themselves. This should be your morning Dunning-Kruger routine. You should always seek ways to challenge your position, so that you can defend it and prove it right. The only way to improve and excel.
Technically, the "fake news" nonsense is a good thing for smart people. As intelligence becomes a commodity, your essential skill as an independent thinking person will become more sought after, promising financial rewards, career opportunities, and more chance to impact and influence. You could make a killing by exploiting the situation to your own needs.
P.S. The world actually needs fewer and fewer smart people. We have developed tons of technologies that help make things easier, and the focus is on creating abstraction layers to isolate, protect and guide the masses. Just think how difficult it was to set up a TV set 30 years ago. We have a solid infrastructure in place that supports itself, so it only needs a little bit of supervision from above.
If you're still unsure, though, then I have compiled a very short list of things that can help you decide whether you need a jolt in your proverbial judgment glands. The focus is not specifically on social media, but it is very likely you will find ample examples there.
- There are no shortcuts in nature. Any news that promises quick and easy results is bullshit. There are no quick and easy results. Think about it. You cannot suddenly become a genius or rich by doing one easy trick. Because if that really worked, everyone would be doing it.
- Any article that uses superlatives in its title (shocking, disturbing, etc) is pointless.
- Any article that uses vague expressions of doom (may kill millions, could be at risk, etc) is pointless.
- Any "x easy steps to achieve y" wunderbar article is pointless.
- Any "world" news that you read needs to be correlated to at least two more sources (the more the better). For instance, if you read something in NYT, then you should also check RT and somewhere in between, maybe a German or an Italian newspaper. A good opportunity to learn a second language, too. In fact, you should always seek opposing sources to your information - if they both agree, it's probably true. If they don't, they cancel each other, hence bullshit.
- Seek advice from successful examples in the subject matter. For instance, food/health related advice from American/British media. Does not make sense really. After all, why would you listen to nations with bad cuisine and severe obesity problems on how to eat well and live healthy? It's like asking people from Chad on skiing advice, or have Turkmenistan build your aircraft career. Food, check French or Moroccan or Italian sources or similar, instead.
- Continuation of the above, always do the opposite of whatever the popular advice is. 99% of people are modern-day slaves, working their entire lives, paying off debt, living in fear. If you listen to them, you will be like them.
Now, this does not mean you should be a paranoid cynic who fears everything and anything. Far from it. But you need to distance yourself from the bland, pointless consumerism, and realize that there are genuinely good and reputable and even fun sources of information, be they technical, medical or just day-to-day stuff, and that it does not all have to be just money, money, money. That also means leaving behind the noise of the social media.
There's an ancient saying: Block a piece of fake news, and you'll be safe for the rest of the day; develop intelligence (human as opposed to AI), and you will be safe from stupidity for the rest of your life. Indeed. Fake news are irrelevant. Stupidity is the real problem.
But the way I see it - it's easier to blame technology than stupid people for believing any which nonsense. Oh, blaming the Russians is not a new thing. As always, if it's political, it has been seen and shown on the most legendary TV series Yes, Prime Minister - Official Secrets. Pure gold.
The thing about fake news is, the money pie is at stake - if people don't believe "trusted" sources, there's less quiche. Stupid people are good for the economy. And then having "the Russians" use Western media to promote their agenda, I mean, really. Still, that's all just petty drama.
The cardinal issue is censorship - ironically, at the moment, AI can't really do that, hence so many people being hired to monitor and filter social media posts, and just to think how much buzzwordology is out there in the tech world around "deep learning" and such. Censorship AKA Holy War on Fake News will make stupid people stupider and even more gullible. But most importantly, it will lead to monochrome societies of brainwashed drones. Freedom and innovation are embedded in argument and intellectual challenge. Ah well. Mike Judge predicted it. The world is slowly marching toward Idiocracy. Enough for today. Take care, fellow members of the Borg.
P.S. All the images in this article are in public domain.