The Writing’s On the Wall: How the *IDEA* of Fake News can hurt democracy

In our rush to decry the problems with “fake news” (and there are many problems with it), we solved one problem… but created another.

And in his fumbling supervillain way, Trump is already trying to make that new problem happen right away.
@PresVillain is a treasure.

We’re setting up a system where all our information is in the hands of a very, very few people.

If you’ve managed to avoid all news from Standing Rock, here’s some links to what’s going on right now (as I type this) from the NY Daily News, The Guardian, and Reuters.  They range from just two to six hours earlier today.

I ran across a post on Facebook being spread that alleged worse things were happening, but that major media was being kept away.

Seeing the coverage that I could find, it seemed possibly true1. (I come from West Virginia; I remember the coal wars, even if most of the people in my state apparently don’t.) I decided to cut-and-paste it after adding my own header:

Does anyone know of ANY other media out at Standing Rock that can confirm/deny this? This report is, given past events and behavior of govt. entities, entirely too probable.

And then I hit post, and saw that my post had been truncated so that only the last line, “Send love & support by reposting if you will” showed. I tried to edit it and re-copy and paste.

Pulling it up to edit
Just before I hit “Save”. The part I can’t verify is blurred out by me after the fact here.

Just after I hit save (and replied to my own post)

The screenshots above were from try #3.  I eventually tried six different times, on four different browsers.

To quote Ian Fleming’s aptly-named “Moscow Rules”…

Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is an enemy action.

Given that I used multiple browsers, it’s difficult to chalk this up to me simply having “a bad Facebook day” or a technological issue on my side.  All evidence appears to indicate that I ran across a server-side example of Facebook’s attempts to curb “fake news”.

Let’s be clear – we don’t need misinformation and made up stories flying around.  With almost two thirds of Americans getting their news from social media, and almost half from Facebook in 2016, and analysis showing that fake news got more engagement than real news,  the possibility of lies being accepted as truth is worrying.2

But with the current Administration peddling lies (Politifact has Trump’s statements as “Mostly False”, “False”, or “Pants on Fire” 69% of the time) and other “alternative truths“, it kind of inherently means that our government is going to be peddling “fake news”… but presumably not going to be restricted by Facebook.

While the example is so obvious as to be insane when talking about Trump, this is a horrible standard to set.

While Reuters Editor-in-Chief Steve Adler’s take on covering Trump “the Reuters Way” is laudable, it provides a choke-point for those who wish to control information, especially when the information is both time-sensitive and physically remote.  Especially when government agencies have shut down cell and wireless signals in the past to disrupt protests – something that’s difficult to prove unless you’re the FCC, but has been reported at Standing Rock since November by multiple sources

While we’re going to have to continue doing self-monitoring (I’ve had a few articles I passed along called out by others, thank you!), both as private citizens and as movements, we cannot rely on any single source of communication or information.   (Yes, I’m looking at you, all those groups that only exist on Facebook.)

And that’s harder than you think.

The problem isn’t that free speech isn’t protected. It’s that you don’t have a right to use someone else’s press.  Shout all you want from your front yard, but your reach is going to be severely limited.

That is worrisome enough when you realize that 90% of US media (or so) is really just a few big companies:

But at least we could take comfort in snarky memes like this one, right?

Yeah, not anymore.

But with so many people mistaking “Facebook” for “The Internet” and Trump’s hollering about “Fake News” having a chilling effect on even the left’s independent news… the possibility is all too obvious and all too chilling.

If we don’t diversify both how we consume, transmit, and create information, the writing is on the wall.

Or rather, it won’t be for long.

1It’s worth noting that after digging around some more, what I was trying to post was probably hyperbolic.  Probably.  Again, the history of strikes (and the violence used to suppress them) has a nasty history of being downplayed and left out of “official” accounts.

2Though a study from researchers at Stanford and NY University indicated that fake news didn’t impact the 2016 election, and I really have to wonder if Facebook is going to clamp down on anti-vaxx lies anytime soon, though I suppose we could start reporting them as fake news…

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