The fake news issue is very serious, and should be addressed in a serious way. No, the Pope did NOT endorse the Republican candidate for the Presidency. No, the Clinton Foundation doesn’t rake off 80% of the donations… No, No, and No. Information is power, and power needs to be exercised with judgment.
Normally we think that organizations with a lot of power have an obligation to use that power responsibly. But the leaders of the largest technology companies have resisted thinking of themselves in those terms. They like to think of their sites as neutral platforms that help users share information with each other — without the company making value judgments of its own.
But this isn’t how power works. When an authority figure turns a blind eye to a problem that’s happening under his watch, the problem doesn’t go away. It festers, often becoming an even bigger problem over time. [Vox]
Perhaps the most chilling argument is that we can’t restrain fake news because it will have a devastating impact on conservative communications. Nor are more traditional media outlets immune from fake or distorted “news.” Hypothetically:
Mr. X Tweets, “New proof emerges of deliberate attempt to have all guns registered in the U.S.” The message is retweeted . No one questions the source of the information, no one checks to see if the links are valid. No one checks – anything. The retweets continue until some news organization picks up the “story” because “people are interested in it.” Now, the headline becomes: “Is there a movement to register all guns in America?” Followed by some generalized arguments from proponents and opponents of the idea. Followed by more “interest” in the “story,” which no one has checked in the first place.
This isn’t journalism. It’s the old Telephone Game we played as children, seeing how garbled the message became after passing through several repetitions. It’s dangerous because:
1. It plays into the hands of those who would diminish the credibility of reporting. Several right wing radio personalities have used this platform: You’ll only get the Truth from Me. A statement which isn’t true and never has been.
2. It ultimately destroys the legitimacy of reporting. How is the average consumer supposed to know that the “Denver Guardian” isn’t a real newspaper? How is the average news consumer supposed to know that what appears to be an online news organization is simply a fictional page of fantasy and filibuster for a right wing neo-Nazi organization?
There are enough problems with media today (chasing shiny objects while ignoring major issues) without adding pure fiction to the mix. Someone, somewhere needs to be the Adult In The Room.