Fake News in Post-Truth
I dearly loved my Great Aunt Hester. We visited her all the time when I was a child. I think she bought every single issue National Enquirer ever published in her lifetime. She kept a great big pile of various tabloid magazines on her sofa where she loved to read.
In just about every visit, she would say, while heartily laughing out loud, “Oh, I know none of it is true, but…”. Then she would lean forward and, dropping her voice to a whisper, say, “did you know…” as she told some crazy tale she had read in the latest issue. I think she sort of wished the nonsense were true just to make her latter years a little more interesting.
So, let’s consider the whole cottage industry of fake news polluting the information commons. Today, with digital media, anybody can pass off virtually anything as true news. But there’s something very different about how we process information in today’s social media.
During the election, my Facebook feed was flooded with post-truth fake news. And what I found most concerning was that my friends were reposting this stuff along with their outraged commentary because they believed it. They truly believed it. I mean: Hillary Clinton actually has the body of JonBenét Ramsey in her basement! Is the fog of deceit and manipulation so thick that journalism appears to be completely dead?
BuzzFeed founding editor, Craig Silverman, published an analysis of Facebook engagement data. Engagement is when a person shares, likes, reposts, comments, etc. He concluded that top fake election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than the top election stories from 19 major news outlets combined.
Like my dear Aunt Hester, we eat this stuff up and allow ourselves to be outraged, infuriated, and manipulated into participating in the fake news industry. We are actually working for fake news sites for free, often earning them a great deal of money, because we choose to believe and share what we want to believe as truth. We are all post-truthers.
Does this viral manipulation of truth have long-term consequences? Aunt Hester knew that tabloid magazines were, well, you know… But as we share the digital nonsense with all of our friends, as if it were truth, we contribute to a post-truth climate that promotes the fake as true. We are both suckered in and complicit at the same time. We are taken advantage of twice!
The quality of our decision-making is directly linked to knowing the facts, the truth. We simply can not make good decisions, important decisions, decisions with profound, long-term implications without access to the truth. Objective reality really does matter.
Maybe we’re all too busy to take the time to read, watch, and listen to a lot of trusted news sources, to challenge what we see and read (think critically), even from our friends. I find it fascinating that, in all of these years, only 2 of my friends have ever suggested to me that I look different than my selfies! (And one of those just typed LOL! as a comment to a new profile picture. Imagine the audacity! Ok, so yes, the potbelly was completely gone! My finest work.)
The truth is: we give our friends a special dispensation, don’t we. They’re our friends, and we trust them! And the liars exploit this fact in social media.
Maybe our lives are so cluttered, so complex, we don’t know what sources to trust; so, we trust our friends. And that’s the huge difference today. We knew the tabloids were probably filled with sensationalism. But our invisible problem in today’s social media is that our trusted friends are probably in the same dis-informed slave camp we are in1—being taken advantage of just like we are. It’s an echo chamber of the lies and the fake. Smoke. Mirrors.
Today the news is filled with reports of the results of fake-news conspiracy, #pizzagate:
A North Carolina man was arrested Sunday after he walked into a popular pizza restaurant in Northwest Washington carrying an assault rifle and fired one or more shots, D.C. police said. The man told police he had come to the restaurant to “self-investigate” a false election-related conspiracy theory involving Hillary Clinton that spread online during her presidential campaign.
Source: The Washington Post (12/5/2016): N.C. Man Told Police He Went to D.C. Pizzeria With Gun to Investigate Conspiracy Theory
He saw the fake-news reports that Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a pizza place in D.C., and, like so many others, he believed it. And God bless his mis-informed, taken-advantage-of heart, he decided to do something about it. You know, I think it’s way past time for a serious reality check. Or, I can go remove some more wrinkles from my new selfies. Hmmm…
Putting a Point to the Dull
During the election, because too many Americans were caught up in digesting and sharing the post-truth fake news and were not holding Mr. Pence and his boss to honesty and relevant issues, we now have little idea about what they are really going to actually do in office. How are they going to govern? As the cabinet seems to be taking shape, some of the most horrifying creatures from the thickest sludge on the very bottom of that swamp they kept talking about seem to be slithering into high level positions—just more of the same.
Soon, we will begin to see exactly how expensive our post-truth feel-good moment will be. Will you lose your social security? Are you going to lose medicare or have it sliced to bits? Are our public funds going to pay for private religious education?2 You know that all of this is being talked about right now. If they cut taxes on the wealthy, as they consistently advertised to lure in those voters, we certainly can’t pay all of these bills! Privatize our roads? Air traffic control? Everything? I just hope the buyer’s remorse isn’t going to be too high, too painful.
One of my good friends says we can always course-correct in 2 years. Hmmm. How much damage can be done in that amount of time…
We will do our part here at PenceWatch.US to try to help us all see and understand what Mr. Pence will actually do in his vice-presidency. We will try to sift through the post-truth feel-good and see what’s really lurking below in the inner workings of the muck machine.
This is the Eli Pariser TED talk to which I referred in the footnote. While it really has nothing to do with politics, it also has everything to do with politics. Watching it thoughtfully will probably be the most important 9 minutes of your day today!
And if living in a Post-truth world couldn’t get any stranger, the visual editing software giant, Adobe3, has just announced Adobe VoCo. VoCo “listens” to about 20 minutes of a person’s speech and then allows the user to edit the audio using written text. In other words, the software listens, shows the editor the transcribed text of the spoken words found in the soundwave, and allows the user to change/retype those words at will. The software then speaks the new text using the voice of the speaker, which it has learned to reproduce.
We are now entering a world in which you can neither trust what you see nor what you hear. Both can be manipulated at will. Needless to say, the BBC isn’t pleased. Here’s a link to a demo of the software at work. (The same video is embedded at the end of this post.) Crazy!
Other RelateD, Thought-provoking, Trusted Sources:
@The Washington Post: The Post Truth World of the Trump Administration Is Scarier than You Think
@YouTube: Watch the Adobe VoCo software demonstrated at this link which is embedded below.
Eli Pariser has written two brilliantly insightful books about being trapped in an information echo chamber. I highly recommend: The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You (May 17 2011) or: The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think (April 24, 2012) His insight is mind-bending. You can watch his TED talk at this link. I’ll also embed it at the end of this post. ↩
This is just some of what I see coming in the crystal ball. ↩
They make Photoshop, non-linear video editing software, and crazy good special Fx software. ↩