I generally agree that FB is bad, but for quite different reasons.

“Mark Zuckerberg and his team will continue to allow the social network to be a haven for fake news, hoaxes, threats, and much, muchworse”(sic).

Ummmm … allow? Is there some law against fake news / hoaxes / etc? Is there some obligation for a platform to become a censor and validator of information that filters out anything but the objective truth? And if we do eventually agree on a definition of the objective truth and decide to outlaw the dissemination of everything but the objective truth, why not simply make it into a law? Why exactly should we single out some digital platforms but still allow all other broadcast services to promote fake news / lies /etc as a mass product?

Could it be (using US elections as the obvious example)…

  1. because digital platforms allowed foreigners to play the game? It’s not just Russia, but Europeans as well who ‘interfere’ by joining the fray and promoting information with various degrees of ‘truthiness’ ranging from the obvious fake news to mild exaggerations. In that case, should we just try to ban foreigners from lying to Americans (or to whatever locals are there)? To me that’s how the current discourse sounds, Americans should be lied to only by Americans … I don’t see anyone trying to ban Fox News altogether.
  2. because digital platforms allow for unprecedented access? Cable doesn’t have anymore the reach that online does. Everything that makes it into the online world permeates everywhere and following what we know of human nature it’s the outrageous and the shocking that satisfies. Nobody cares enough to verify, it’s simply too much information out there (loosely calling it information) so people jump to whatever sounds satisfying. But if we do end up policing that, we just enforce a change of degree. We ban the deluge of fake news and start a whackamole game that’s un-winnable while still allowing institutionalised fake news …. “Americans should be lied to by Americans” is joined by “Fake news is ok as long as it’s controlled by classic media corporations like Fox”.

Sorry, but no.

First of all, fake news affects people not because it exists. Lies have been around since humanity has been around. If it’s really so ingrained in our nature, then this is not twisting democracy, it’s just another layer of it. If it represents people, who we are and what we want, how we work, etc then it’s fair. It’s annoying, it won’t lead to anything good in the long run but it’s fair.

Secondly, if it’s not ingrained in our nature, then the correct way to fight it is education. Learning to process information in the digital era is simply not something that either parents or schools do (beyond forbidding access to social media when it’s not convenient). When I started university in 2001, I had a one-semester class of “research”, learning to process and verify information. This wasn’t just the academic research standard (in fact that was barely touched) but more of a general thinking thing. But it was barely enough and the most digital thing we did was rummage through some CDs containing some obscure encyclopaedias which had plenty of errors to go around that we had to weed out through research.

We need to encourage journalists that verifiable information is worth while, we need to protect a line of integrity that can be used as a baseline of minimal verification. We need people whose discourse comes to the bottom line of referring to that baseline of verifiable information. It needs to be there, it needs to be reachable. It’s education. Sure, it’s also difficult and people love to ignore it, particularly those whose interest depends on masses ignoring reality. But if we succumb to that, it will be only because we deserve it. Truth doesn’t need to be policed, it needs to be promoted.

Make Truth great again!

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