@courtney-delawar Hi! I’ve been thinking about this constantly this year. Fake news (and the war on truth) is in my opinion the issue on which all other political issues rest. If we can’t agree on an answer to “what is the truth?”, then it becomes impossible to make meaningful reform on any other issue: climate crisis, corruption in politics, social equality, etc.
I think there are at least two kinds of fake news popular right now:
- Propaganda — Information used to mislead, or promote or publicize a specific point of view.
- Disinformation — Intentionally spreading false information with the intention of influencing those who receive it.
Propaganda is what we see on Fox News. They have a conservative agenda. When the NYTimes published Trump tax returns yesterday, Fox News defended the president, and cast doubt on the NyTimes report. If Fox truly cared about the integrity of their journalism, or about serving Americans without an agenda, they would have just reported on the facts as we knew them. Instead they interpret news, add their own spin, and go silent when hard truths come up that they don’t want to address.
I’m not sure of the solution here, but certainly education is important. We as a society need to get better at recognizing bias. We also need to practice critical thinking skills. It is a crucial skill for our survival. (What are some good books on this? I’m not sure. I might suggest with learning the basic Logical Fallacies) We’d also benefit from learning about the history of journalism, and why this institution is so valuable to a democratic society. I’d also suggest everyone read George Orwell’s 1984! Please.
Let’s now turn to disinformation on the internet. The fake news that comes from the bottom-up.
One of the main drivers of disinformation is anonymity. The web was designed with equality in mind. Our protocols TCP/IP and HTTP do not discriminate based on gender, race, age, or religion. The protocols send and receive data, they don’t care who is behind the computer. There is something beautiful anonymity this anonymity when it comes to self-expression, and freedom.
And yet, there also something very dangerous about anonymity. I’ve been rethinking anonymity in terms of social networks, and our news sources in particular.
For example, a large factor in the Russian propaganda campaign during the 2016 U.S. presidential election was the IRA’s (the group behind the campaign) ability to spin up hundreds of fake accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. It’s anonymity that allowed them to gain the trust of millions of Americans, and then to abuse that trust while America was none the wiser.
There’s a wonderful talk on Russian propaganda networks by Renée DiResta speaking at The Harriman Institute at Columbia University: (start at 21:00)
So in short:
- We need to question our sources (and help other people learn about how to questions where they are getting their news from)
- And on the internet, combating anonymity on social networks would help. I think the coming New Internet (blockchain, identify protocols, etc) will be an important factor in cleaning up fake news over the next 10 years.