Formerly the bastion of naked truth, the Internet is being redefined by "fake news"

“Fake news” is the bleating scapegoat that’s come to define this era of American politics. Originally intended as a label for fabricated stories written with maximum virality in mind—often in support of President Trump—the term’s been co-opted by some authority figures to confuse the public into thinking that actual facts are falsehoods.

It started with a scandal on Facebook. What I realised is that all scandals need one fundamental thing to burn their pulsating fire of vehemence – the facts. But here’s where it gets mirky. Said Facebook post, upon further investigation, and some pretty vocal detractors, turned out to be a fake. It wasn’t even an artful fake, more like somebody who was just playing around with Photoshop – and was pretty good at it -decided they had too much time on their hands and did it for a laugh. You could spot the rough edges, and the strange lighting. Gasps and sighs all around – but amazingly, there was still a hardcore camp who refused to accept the evidence.

This is the problem with the internet. ‘Truth’ is a fluid concept. In the beginning, in the Great Age of the Dial Up Modem Box – the Dumb Age (yes I put ‘Box’ on the end to make that backronym work) – people tentatively explored this brave new world looking for answers to questions. Fast forward 40 years, a couple of elections and a global culture shift to digital dependency and social anxiety, and people don’t use the internet for answers any more. When it comes to politics, religion, or anything that might be controversial, more often than not we already have the answers. Or at least, ‘our’ answers. We don’t want them anyway, we want justification – evidence that what we want to believe is true. And is that so wrong? Because, well, in a world (with a digital landscape) where black can be argued white, isn’t it all about perspective…?

Take Google and Facebook’s new pooling of their collective uber-resources on their new mission to weed out falsehoods, and identify the ‘real’ truth (and don’t get me wrong, the collaborative nature of the platforms, and the way it encourages journalists to be part of an aligned community is a noble virtue, one which I support) – isn’t it kind of moving us backward 40 years? If the recent pivotal role that ‘fake news’ seems to have played in the US elections is anything to go by, ought we not be challenging the very structures that try to tell us there is such a thing as ‘real’ and ‘fake’ news, instead of assuming that there is such a thing at all as ‘truth’? Shouldn’t technology be amplifying and supporting our own wills (warts and all) whilst we leave the moral debates to the ancient art of persuasion? Rather than justifying our own linear view of the world with it? That’s what brings us together – our ability to not see each others point of view – and instead appeal to our common humanity, empathy, and the ability to ‘see your point of view but not agree with it’. History is written by the winners, they say, but again…its all about perspective. And the losers didn’t have the Internet.Well, they do now….

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